“You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad.

So what do we do about that divide? And what if the problem isn't evenly distributed across the landscape or within a party, but pools and concentrates in certain spots? Do journalists go to those (malignant) spots and fight?

24 Aug 2012 8:45 am 93 Comments

The lines are usually attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

But suppose there arose on the political scene a practical caucus for the opposite view. We are entitled to our own facts, and we will show you what we think of your attempt to “check” us. If that happened, would the press know what to do?

We hear quite a bit about the partisan divide in Washington and around the country. We hear a lot less about the divide around Moynihan’s famous lines. Those who think you’re not entitled to your own facts vs. those who dispute the statement. Or feel unbound from it. Or they simply run right over it trying to win today’s battle or deliver today’s news.

“Hey, you’re not entitled to your own facts…” vs: That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. Read my poll.

Evidence that others at least know what I’m talking about came from David S. Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix (an occasional critic of mine) who recently sent this plea out over Twitter:

Dear media critics: OK, entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?

I don’t know the answer. I do know that it’s troubling to other journalists sifting through the 2012 campaign. Two weeks ago a bureau chief wrote to me for comment on a story he was doing about the same development. My reply:

If we start back in the 1990s and read forward to the current campaign, we see distinct phases of innovation as political journalists react to misleading ads: first, the ad watch phase in the 90s; there was some mention of misleading elements, but the final tally was about effectiveness, or what I call “savvy.” The limitations of the ad watch led to direct fact-checking by the press, where actual grades are handed out. The emphasis is on judging truth and falsehood, not assessing effectiveness. So now we’re in a new phase: fact checking alone is not enough. The campaigns seem able to override it, which does not mean they override it equally or with the same vengeance. So what’s the next innovation?

He wrote back: right, well what is the next innovation? Again: I don’t know. (Hit the comment button if you do know.)

Time magazine’s Michael Scherer, a political reporter, gives his answer in his August 10th post, Why Deceit Is Everywhere in the 2012 Campaign. Scherer complained on Twitter that I did not give the argument a fair summary, so I want to make sure I do that here.

Scherer is interested in why deceptive ads and misleading claims don’t receive more censure from the public and from allies of the deceivers. That would change the dynamic, far more than press coverage could. So why doesn’t it happen? Scherer’s answer is that we’re over-reliant on outrage as a “mode” of public action:

The elemental move in modern politics always looks like this: The other side is not playing by the rules. An injustice has occurred. Be outraged.

But who draws the lines when strategists for both parties believe there is little cost to peddling deliberate, carefully crafted falsehoods? The vast majority of the American voting public long ago demonstrated their willingness to simultaneously forgive fibs told by their own team and express umbrage at the deception offered by the other team.

“All of this creates a huge problem for the nonpartisan, less ideological core of the fourth estate,” Scherer writes about himself and his peers. “We journalists, after all, are supposed to be champions of facts, accuracy and truth. But audiences have left nonpartisan outlets for the comfort of organizations, like Fox News and the New York Times editorial page, that focus on one side of the outrage story.”

The audience for political news is fragmented, segmented, at times even regimented to think one way. And that fact check you’re calling for isn’t going to reach the people you think need it. So wake up. Scherer goes on:

Turn on Fox to find out the latest Democratic outrage. Turn to the New York Times editorial page for the latest Republican outrage. Neither outlet need confuse its audience by cross-pollinating its outrage with context. Both sides reinforce the divide, and, in preaching to the choir and building the team spirit and the sense of victimization, they both clear the way for more deception.

He thinks it folly to rage at political journalists or The Media for this state of affairs. The answer lies within. Within political coalitions. Outrage at the other guy/”we can have our own facts…” is a perverse pattern. But is it inevitable? Infuential supporters, active citizens, home team bloggers: all have to get mad at their own side when deception or rank bullshit is tried. Scherer says to the close readers of political coverage who assail him in the comment threads at Swampland, and to press bloggers in a lather about “false balance…” Where has all this activity in the key of outrage gotten you? Maybe you should try something else. The “next innovation” he has in mind:

… if we remove the outrage, or at least minimize it, then maybe we can focus not just on the deceptions of the guy we don’t like but also on the deception of the guy we like. For in the end, there is only one thing that will force these candidates, their campaigns and supporters to hue a straighter line: Their own constituencies must object.

That’s the real fact check, Scherer says. Politicians will feel less entitled to their own facts when voters and fans make them pay a price. Go ahead and rage at the press when it fails to call out the other guy. See how far that gets you.

Alec MacGillis of The New Republic has a simpler answer to, “Entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?”

Using whatever platform you have, speak up about it. If they keep using it, you keep speaking! His plea: “for the political press to do its job when it comes to the basic task of calling out blatant, repeated dishonesty on the campaign trail.”

Part of the problem is the lack of a handy index that shows which “we are sooo entitled to our own facts…” ads are drawing the most investment from campaigns and candidates. Money, TV time, visibility can flow toward the blatant misstatement that’s been fact checked and labeled toxic, or away from. When they move toward it that’s a story. Reporting that story is not like reporting: they all lie. (But hey, it works, right?)

“There is no question that what Romney is saying about Obama ‘taking the work requirement out of welfare’ is knowingly false,” MacGillis wrote. The fact checks already happened. But most of the political press still treats it as a controversy most of the time. Which side of the divide are they on? MacGillis said he was surprised when “of all people, a former Republican congressman used his morning talk show to call out Mitt Romney. Take it away, Joe Scarborough:”

“I’ve been looking for a week-and-a-half to try to figure out the basis of this welfare reform ad, I’ve scoured the Wall Street Journal editorial pages, I’ve scoured…. the ad’s completely false. It’s just completely false.

And I’m pretty stunned.”

So that’s what MacGillis recommends. Journalists should be speak confidently into the microphone and declare things “completely false” when their own judgment tells them so. That isn’t a moment you can outsource to fact-checkers. It’s a “which side are you on?” thing: The people who think “you’re not entitled to your own facts,” or those who say: Wait a minute, maybe you are?

Joe Scarborough “did the basic job of a journalist,” MacGillis writes. “He looked into whether someone was telling the truth, found that they weren’t, and said so, clearly. So, to the rest of the pack, I ask: what’s stopping you?”

One thing that’s stopping them: the production of innocence.

Entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?

David Bernstein, that DC bureau chief who wrote to me, Michael Scherer, Alex MacGillis: all are realizing that mainstream political journalism offers no clear instructions to its people about what to do in this situation. The only “pack” response available is to do nothing. But nothing isn’t working. So which side are you on? becomes unavoidable for people who thought there would never come a day when they had to choose sides.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links… Aug. 28-31

September 16: Margaret Sullivan, the new public editor at the New York Times writes a landmark column, and it cites this post: He Said, She Said, and the Truth. “The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership — and the democracy — will be,” she writes. But some of the Times editors have a very different view.

Good background: David Corn, How to Beat the Fact-Checkers. Kind of a short history of the fact-checking movement in the press.

Readers: I revised it and turned this section into a new, more updated post. See #presspushback (PressThink, Aug. 31.)

Revolt of the savvy: some in the press push back against continued use of a false claim

The anger in Ron Fournier’s Aug. 29th explainer for National Journal: Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card is to me a high point amid the literature, journalism and noise of campaign 2012.

Why ignore fact-checkers? First, internal GOP polling and focus groups offer convincing evidence that the welfare ad is hurting Obama. Second, the welfare issue, generally speaking, triggers anger in white blue-collar voters that is easily directed toward Democrats. This information comes from senior GOP strategists who have worked both for President Bush and Romney. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.

… Before explaining why these tactics work (and why Romney’s team knows, or should know, they are playing the race card), let’s quickly deal with this fact: The ad is wrong. As countless impartial fact-checkers have noted, the Obama administration memo cited by the Romney team actually gives states flexibility to find better ways of getting welfare recipients into jobs.

In Fournier’s column I saw the first signs: a possible revolt of the savvy, a case with a long build-up, triggered by an ideological and ongoing event: post-fact checked use of the “Obama says no more work for welfare” claim. Which is a heavily fact-checked claim. We now have different authors finding multiple ways to report on the continued pursuit of a critically important piece of false information, turning that falsehood into a stream of news.

Further signs of a push back. On the convention floor, Andrea Mitchell asked Rick Santorum about the “no more work requirement” fact check right after his speech. (Video.) “Whatup with that?” she said. (Direct quote.)

James Fallows has other sightings: news people, including NPR’s Morning Edition, openly struggling with the “we have our own facts” people. Media Evolution for the ‘Post-Truth’ Age.

From Greg Sargent, a Washington Post blogger. A summary of where things stood in the revolt of the savvy on Aug. 29, after Romney tries to overawe fact checking. His view: Might be a spasm. Might be a trend. Might get old fast and expire.

I track these things. This headline is not usually seen in a news story reporting on a speech: Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama. (Los Angeles Times.)

Three bells went off for this post (“you have a news alert”) when Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith reported from a breakfast briefing at the Republican convention in Tampa the clarifying remarks of Mitt Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Exactly! They’re not. Which is like saying to political journalists: your move, fellas. Ben Smith’s fuller report

The welfare ad has been the center of intense dispute, with Democrats accusing Romney of unearthing old racial ghosts and Romney pointing out that the Obama Administration has offered states waivers that could, in fact, lighten work requirements in welfare, a central issue in Bill Clinton’s 1996 revamping of public assistance.

The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” awarded Romney’s ad “four Pinocchios,” a measure Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismissed.

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said. The fact-checkers — whose institutional rise has been a feature of the cycle — have “jumped the shark,” he added after the panel.

There it is. The conflict I just wrote about: “You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion!

What the mainstream press has said back to the Romney ad amount to “you are not entitled to your own facts.” The ad has been called false or very misleading; and it’s not just the fact checkres but also the day-to-day narrators saying it…

That’s Your Opinion! is what the Romney campaign said back. (“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by–“)

Notice also that if the Romney campaign wanted to push back hard on the welfare ad ruling, but leave in there a modicum of respect for the fact checking enterprise, it could have said:

We think fact checking is an important but fallible part of the campaign dialogue; we also reserve our right to contest in absolute terms some of the rulings. They are, after all, acts of judgment. And this is one of those judgments we completely reject and disagree with.

But that is not where the Republican party is right now. It has set up in a more fearsome place, closer to the heart of the culture war. Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: “We’re a check on…” have to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, who are inside laughing at how easy it all was.

Meanwhile, the editors of the National Review, the premier conservative journal in the country, write: “The website PolitiFact is going to be truth-squadding the Republican convention speakers this week, delivering verdicts on which claims are ‘mostly true’ and which deserve a ‘pants on fire’ rating. Our advice: Pay no attention to those ratings. PolitiFact can’t be trusted to get the story right.”

Human Events, a another conservative magazine, sees Politfact as “left wing.” Evidence: it’s calling out Republicans way more. Think about that: If asymmetry counts as evidence for media bias, an asymmetrical situation can never be portrayed by the media in an unbiased way… by definition! Human Events also says that when you look at Politicfact’s “proof” it is laughably missing. And this is from a Pulitzer Prize winning outfit!

Now comes James Bennet in the Atlantic on the “new assertiveness” in calling out lies: “Instead of being able to stand above the fray as some sort of neutral arbiter of the truth, the press may be finding that it is winding up on one side of a new kind of he-said-she-said argument.”

Precisely. Can our press handle it?

Signs of a push-back, cont. At the close of the Republican convention (Aug. 31) the New York Times reports: Facts Take a Beating in Acceptance Speeches. In other words, that was part of the news. There’s more: two bells.

The two speeches — peppered with statements that were incorrect or incomplete — seemed to signal the arrival of a new kind of presidential campaign, one in which concerns about fact-checking have been largely set aside.

This post has a name for the “new kind of presidential campaign” the Times mentioned. Call it the “We are entitled to our own facts” style in campaigning. The press should be on the lookout for it, wherever it appears. By the way, Mitt Romney said this on August 9:

“You know, in the past, when people pointed out that something was inaccurate, why, campaigns pulled the ad. They were embarrassed. Today, they just blast ahead. You know, the various fact checkers look at some of these charges in the Obama ads and they say that they’re wrong, and inaccurate, and yet he just keeps on running them.”

Hungry for your “both sides do it” moment? It has arrived.

If you’re wondering: don’t I also recognize that the Obama forces have used deceptive, depraved and untrue claims in their attempt to stain Romney before his own message gets through? Yes. I do. These stand out: Romney didn’t say he likes firing people in the way some Democrats and TV personalities have suggested, so that counts as a kind of extended lie. The Priorities USA ad that suggested (without quite saying it) that Bain Capital was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife: that goes in the depraved category, I think. When the White House claimed it knew nothing about the case that was clearly untrue– pathetic, really. The refusal to condemn the ad was a black mark, as well. Obama ads calling Romney “outsourcer in chief” were over the top and relied on false or overblown claims.

In my view these are serious transgressions, full stop. And in my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign. Nor is there anything coming from the Obama machine that is like the open defiance of fact-checking we have seen from Romney and his team. I don’t think it’s a character issue but a kind of post-truth strategy in electioneering, which is itself a response to huge tensions within the Republican Party. I see the situation as highly asymmetrical, with just enough on both sides to make “both sides do it” sound plausible.

I also recognize, because I read my incoming, that this conclusion is bitterly contested by other critics looking at the same facts and by opponents of Obama. Or it just sounds ridiculous to them, a substitution of political preferences for fair-minded analysis. That response, which flows to me constantly over social media, is part of the reality of culture war politics, media bias division.


+Roger Burgess says:

I can tell you exactly why the Left despises the ‘non-partisan’ media – it’s because of blatant false-equivalencies and he-said/she-said cowardice on their part.

The facts of the matter are that one party has Creationists, Flat-Earthers, Climate Change Deniers, Magic Uterus Believers and others too numerous to mention. That side is demonstrably light on the facts and the constant stream of ‘Well both sides do it’ is both easily seen-through bullshit and quite simply is not journalism.

Since it is not journalism, the Left has gone away and towards people who are willing to call out facts as facts and lies as lies. The fault here lies almost entirely in the meekness of those ‘journalists’. Both sides do NOT ‘do it’.

fausto412 says:

Look the problem with “both sides do it” is that it implies equal roles/blame/abuse. We know one side does it more and not calling that out only provides cover to that side and almost forces the other side to do it too. It’s like doping in cycling, if your competitor does it you have to do it to be competitive or else be relegated to always losing. I hate when the left stretches the truth or flat out lies but because i see the stuff the right gets away with I almost feel guiltily happy that the left finally stands up for itself which doesn’t happen often enough. I wish for discourse to be in context and fact based but we already know facts have a liberal bias…especially when used in context. The media has a role to play here but for the most part they stand back not making a judgement. I have heard people on NPR say “well such and such says this is false” only to have the interview subject give a non answer and basically not back down or admit that yes it is a lie.

Calloway Simmons says:

I am in total agreement with ur assessment of media cowards in not calling out the lies, while using the excuse that “Both Sides Do It”. The degree upon which One Side does it truly contaminates and corrupts the 2012 Election! With the organized Voter Suppression, seems to me this Presidential Election shall be FALL FROM VALID!!

Great piece, Jay. I suspect that the truth or fiction of the narrative presented in politics circa 2012 is irrelevant compared to how it impacts the grand narrative to which it is attached. In other words, supporters have so bought into the grand narrative (“They’re taking MY money and giving it to others”) that the falsehood of the specific narrative in the ad (Obama taking the “work” out of welfare) simply doesn’t matter. The Romney ad is speaking to a certain group of people, not the general public. How does the press deal with this? Talk about the truth of the grand narrative instead. That may seem like “savvy” reporting, but it’s much tougher than anybody thinks.

“Talk about the truth of the grand narrative instead.”

Maybe I’m wrong or just stuck, Terry, but I keep coming back to the problem of “too big to tell.” What if the grand narrative is itself a lie? Then the entire campaign is, in effect, a lie. Political journalists are going to report that? No. They are not. Even when they have to (in order to maintain self-respect, a truthteller’s role, or their authority) they’re not going to report that.

The lie in this case (taking “work” out of welfare) is surrounded by the bigger narrative, which I believe is the point of the ad in the first place. It’s a fundamental plank of the GOP’s pitch to voters and why we see so many people actually voting against their own best interests. The concern about giving “my” money to some lazy do-nothing is a compelling argument for people who “just know” that this is the truth. Perhaps investigating that is too extreme for any institution of journalism, so I understand your cynicism, but every time someone reports about the “lie” of this narrative without challenging the grand narrative, it supports said grand narrative. The lie, therefore — and even repeating the lie — isn’t really the message being communicated. It’s that old theme of those damned liberals, something no conservative can win without.

I hear you.

One would think that the bigger and more blatant the lie, the easier it is for the press to point it out. But past a certain point in the swelling of the lie into narrative, the situation flips: the bigger the lie, the less likely it is to be called out. Make it indistinguishable from “the party” and there is no chance of a lie being called out.

And yes, I am aware that students of propaganda have made this point before.

“One would think that the bigger and more blatant the lie, the easier it is for the press to point it out. But past a certain point in the swelling of the lie into narrative, the situation flips: the bigger the lie, the less likely it is to be called out. Make it indistinguishable from “the party” and there is no chance of a lie being called out.

And yes, I am aware that students of propaganda have made this point before.”

Possibly you’re thinking along the lines of something I first realized this back in the 80’s when I read Chomsky on the subject of terrorism. The press covers scandals that fall at or below what might call a certain level of badness, but not the ones that exceed it. So you can have thorough reporting and discussions about why it’s bad to wiretap your political opponents or burglarize their headquarters and you can have discussions about whether Oliver North was or was not a hero for breaking the law to support Nicaraguan freedom fighters, but what you can’t discuss in the mainstream is whether the freedom fighters we supported were terrorists.

In short, American officials can be dishonest or corrupt, they can break the law through overzealousness (the usual meme about Oliver North) but they can’t be war criminals or terrorist supporters. The accusation is so serious it can’t even be mentioned, at least not in the mainstream press. (Though according to this Glenn Greenwald interview with a historian of the subject, to my amazement Democratic congresspeople were saying this in the 80’s, but the NYT never reported it. link

Coming back to the current topic, the MSM apparently can’t bring itself to say that one of the political parties is considerably worse than the other, or that it is deliberately lying about policy issues in order to inspire racist voters. I

Great article!

Solution Idea: Registered voters, and only registered voters, may publicly contribute to any election they can actually vote in.

Comment: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are two of the best critical-thinking BS-busters of our times. And they would never make the mistake of ever equivocating Fox Cable 24/7 GOP propaganda and the occasional liberal-leaning editorial in the multiple Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times:

“Turn on Fox to find out the latest Democratic outrage. Turn to the New York Times editorial page for the latest Republican outrage.”

Waiting for a commercial that ends “He’s Mitt Romney and he approved that lie.”

Two thoughts. One on what to do: call lies out repeatedly, without mincing words “Romney has repeatedly stated X, despite being told that is untrue. In fact, Y. It appears that he is lying.”

There is still an unwillingness to use the word “lie” and that has to end.

Second, for you and other scholars: how does the press in other countries, particularly the UK, deal with this issue?

I stopped reading when you equated Fox News and the NY Times EDITORIAL page … To begin with, there is supposed to be a difference between news and editorial isn’t there … And the NY Times editorial page is opposite their opinion page, which does carry a range of views and outrage …
Shame on you …

Shame on who?

jayackroyd says:

Scherer, apparently. But I do think that’s a weird equivalence for Michael to make. The Times is not in the same business as FOX.

fausto412 says:

Most people who watch Fox don’t know that Fox is not news like NYT is news.

Of course they know it’s not news like the NYT is news. It’s news “without the liberal bias”!

But anyway, shame on Michael Sherer all the same. The fact that he had to use the NYT to set up his false equivalency, just shows how far he had to stretch to stay in “he said/she said” mode.

Part of the problem is that people are far more likely to see a false advertisement from a candidate than they are to hear a correction from a journalist, if only because of volume. (See also: Pew report on how shifts in dissemination.)

But campaigns don’t buy the barrels of ink. Television networks have standards departments that evaluate the appropriateness of advertisements. Is there no way for them to bookend or overlay an ad with a notice about its accuracy? Likewise newspapers. The media are media — routes for the distribution of information on which campaigns rely. So why let them distribute information that’s false without identifying it as such?

In an ideal world, an ad containing a lie would be rejected, but the uproar over such a thing would make it hard for a local station or newspaper to enforce. Or, perhaps those contributions to the Presidential campaign fund — a now near-useless exercise — could go to a standards body of some sort? (Imagine the politicking around that!) But an organization clearing ads for distribution would go a long way to facilitating the ability of local media to be immune to partisan boycott.

Todd Brasells says:

Journalists need to report the facts and leave the He said she said completely out of it. But they are beholden to the ratings because news has gone from public service to profit center. Just the facts without all the juicy gossip wont sell as well, wich ultimately puts the blame squarely on the public itself. “The democracy we deserve” to paraphrase .

If NBC, along with MSNBC, attacked Romney for lying over and over again, they could A)Drown out the lie, and B)shame him and his campaign.

Here is what that looks like. In the top half of the nightly news they should call Mitt Romney a liar a dozen times. Then, they shouldn’t cover anything in his campaign until he either stops the lie, i.e. pulls the ads, or retracts them in public.

Think about how painful that would be for the Romney campaign.

“Good evening, I am Brian Williams. Today in Politics, Mitt Romney lied to the American People for the 13th straight day. His lies, based on a racially biased attack on President Obama, are the focus of his economic message for this phase of the campaign.

Mitt Romeny is lying. He isn’t wrong, he isn’t pretending to not understand the issue, he is flat out lying to the American People and he is counting on the media to be too polite or too scared to call him on it. My name is Brian Williams, I work for NBC, and I am a journalist. Mitt Romney is lying to you and to me, and he believes there are no consequences for those lies. Guess what Gov. Romney You aren’t just a liar, you are wrong.”

“What normally happens now is that in an effort to be “fair” news anchors and journos point out inaccurate statements from both campaigns, which is supposed to prove we’re balanced. Mitt Romney is lying to the American people and counting on our bias towards fairness to confuse the issue. But there is no analogous action on the democratic side. The GOP nominee for President is lying and not embarrassed by his lies, nor moved to stop lying. Until he does, either stops or acknowledges those lies and explains them, the only coverage he will received will be me, sitting here, telling you, that Mitt Romney is LYING. Lying to you. To your family. To your country. And he is doing it because he feels that lying benefits him. Again, Gov. Romney, you are wrong. Lying has consequences in the real world. If you continue to Lie, and you are lying, I will continue to call you, sir, a liar. Tune in tomorrow for day 14 of Mitt Romney lying to the American People.,,, In other political news, President Obama took his economic message on the road today…”

See how that goes. Halfway through that piece the Welfare ads would be down. The person who did them would be fired and Mitt Romney would be calling every network to spin. Himself. Because the other networks would have to make a choice, either they would like they were cowards or they would have to attack Brian Williams and say HE was lying. It is an extreme reaction to an extreme problem. But it is the correct escalation.

Are you watching HBO’s The Newsroom?

I am, and Aaron Sorkin is so right it is scary. The second problem that I don’t go into is that the bias toward fairness, great phrase I’d heard before but not in years… I always say, fairness is the ideology of childhood… has devalued journalism. The false equivilance has allowed for the rise of Fox and the slow public suicide of CNN. One of their anchors actually said this weekend, “you should watch CNN because we’re fair.” As though being “fair” is somehow a benefit or positive.


fausto412 says:

public suicide of CNN LOL…

CNN is killing itself because it stopped doing hard news. Everything is on the fly just about.

Agree. The media would serve themselves much better if they stopped equivocating, and actually used the strongest and most direct word we have in our language: “lie”. “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” is pretty hard-wired in the playground into most of us as NOT what you want to be.

Dan Kennedy says:

Very sharp as usual, Jay. My fear is that we’ve reached the point at which outright falsehoods really don’t matter given how few voters are undecided and how unlikely it is that a supporter of one candidate would switch to another simply because he learns that his guy is a lying weasel.

Though Republicans may lie more often and more outrageously than Democrats, I think Obama supporters would be just as unlikely to switch to Romney in the face of evidence that Obama is lying as the reverse situation. So we’re dealing with an environment in which truth simply isn’t all that important.

At the congressional and presidential levels, a candidate’s party affiliation tells you nearly everything you need to know. Lying pales in the face of that reality. Which is why even when the media do their job by pointing out lies such as Romney’s welfare fantasy, very few people care. And thus, at least to a certain extent, journalism is irrelevant.

And that’s Michael Scherer’s argument: journalism is irrelevant. Nobody listens to us anyway.

Journos have themselves to blame. What people crave, even if they don’t know it, is a simple clear declarative statement. There was this article I read years ago that said 99 percent of people going to marriage counseling wanted a ref. Someone to tell them which side was right during their fights. The vast majority of people don’t know enough about politics to actually form a comprehensive opinion. What they want is basic information and a call. What media has done in the last 20 years, mostly in response to the attacks of media bias from the right, is refuse to make a call. When your actions are scripted in advance, meaning I know exactly what you are going to do no matter what I do, it frees me to frame and win every debate. The GOP knows the media won’t call them liars no matter how much they lie. So they get progressively worse each cycle. Journos are irrelevant because they allowed themselves to be convinced that somehow people wanted neutrality, that they wanted objectivity. What they really wanted was information. Did you know that Brokaw was a republican? I didn’t, it was irrelevant because he called it like he saw it. When Tim Russert died they replaced him with David Gregory, a reporter, whose job is functionally different than an opinion maker. He covers stories he doesn’t render judgement. The Daily Show has been calling Mitt Romney a liar for a month. If NBC did it one night they could break the GOP cycle of lying forever.

Bill Russell was getting eaten alive in the paint. Guys were hanging all over him, pushing shoving, cheapshoting him. Red Auerback told him to throw an elbow. Russell said he didn’t want to be that guy, a cheap shot artist always throwing elbows. Red said, if you throw the elbow the right way you’ll never have to throw another one. Look at my script for Brian Williams above. If he does this on this one issue he’ll never have to do it again, and either will anyone else. It will functionally cost Romney the election.


ps – that’s the second post on this section where I invoke Aaron Sorkin. Wow. I think I heard the Russell story on the West Wing ten years ago, lol.

I like your marriage counseling metaphor. However, as a psychiatrist who has treated many couples at various stages of marriage I cannot agree that “What people crave, even if they don’t know it, is a simple clear declarative statement.”

“There was this article I read years ago that said 99 percent of people going to marriage counseling wanted a ref. Someone to tell them which side was right during their fights”

I have never had to be a referee, I’m am not sure how that will even work. An approach that I have found useful is to engage the couple in a more hopeful process. One that builds on the love for each other, connects them to the feelings they had when they met and help them overcome barriers to achieve a better relationship. Additionally providing information, tools and a place to feel safe to overcome barriers.

For good marital therapy check out Steve Carell as a therapist in Hope Springs.

So what does it mean for Journalism?
1. Not taking sides
2. Not having a mistress or an affair (i.e. political ideology, financial conflict of interest etc.)
3. Address relevant issues in language that is jargon free
4. Offer a vision
5. Challenge BS/ defenses

Jay Rosen: “And that’s Michael Scherer’s argument: journalism is irrelevant. Nobody listens to us anyway.”

Given that journalim’s deliberate unwillingness to even try to separate truth from lies from misleading, why should they?

If I were hiring an analyst, I wouldn’t hire a ‘he said, she said’ person.

Rebmarks says:

Journalism has made itself irrelevant. Why are they outsourcing fact-checking? Aren’t journalists supposed to BE fact-checkers? When the lies get repeated over and over again by journalists as a he-said/he-said scenario, they become in-grained in the public psyche. If journos just did what they are supposed to do, ie. say “Today Mitt Romney repeated for the umpteenth time the lie that … ” and then explain why its a lie, and then explain WHY the Romney campaign is doing it, then the Romney campaign wouldn’t be able to keep doing it. EVERY interview, every news story, every mention of every campaign rally should call out the lies. And as has been pointed out over and over again, NO, both sides don’t do it, at least not like this! ALSO, I think it is confusing to most of the public as to why the “fact-checking” has been divorced from journalism, making it easy to dismiss as partisan when it is done by what appears to be new internet-based johnny-come-latelys, rather than by establishment press. And even if many complain about the “liberal” media, if this novel idea spread to all (well, maybe not Fox) media including local papers, then maybe it might spread a little (welcome) doubt…

“Aren’t journalists supposed to BE fact-checkers?”

they don’t think they are.

remember when the NYT made a big stink earlier this year by asking the question Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

they think pointing out lies is some kind of crazy, taking-the-law-into-your-own-hands kind of thing, which no respectable journalist would do.

that was in January 2012, and one of the examples was another blatant Romney lie.

Bill Meahan says:

If the major news media would drop their coverage of the “horse race” aspect of the campaigns and start using that time to Say Candidate X statedY but XXX News can find no factual basis for that statement. John Doe reports…. And then the segment with John Doe telling what he and the research department have discovered about the statement both the tiny bit of fact it may contain and the missing context surrounding it.

Lies need to be called what they are. Things taken out of context must have the context restored. Unsupportable conculsions must be shown to be such.
And it shouldn’t matter which candidate is “Candidate X”

How much more useful that would be than Candidate X leads in the latest XXX-YYYY poll. Who cares? It will change by election day. Heck, it will change by time the broadcast is over.

By and large, journalists have stopped being journalists and become shills for the corporations which employ them and, by extension, the candidate that corporation seeks most to curry favor with.

Great post, Jay! I like that Joe Scarborough and David Frum, among others, are applying the Clinton Test to Romney/Republicans. I think there is more discussion needed on, “What type of bias should the press have?” I think Chris Wallace and Bret Baier are more effective telling Repulicans “you are not entitled to your own facts” because it answers the question “which side are you on?” twice. I guess it would be like George Stephanopoulos calling out Democrats. Question is: How do the non-aligned and saavy get the credibility for calling out sides?

Christopher says:


Thanks for bringing this issue up. But I do not think the solution is that mysterious. When this happens, the media should say clearly what is happening, and say it again and again as long as it takes. They should ask probing questions about it, and follow up on those questions. Keep the focus on the issue and eventually it will get a response. Not everyone will be persuaded perhaps, but it will matter.

Instead, they mention it, and then think they shouldn’t harp on it lest they be accused of bias or be less entertaining or fail to be properly “fair”. They are trapped in a set of assumptions about what their job is that exacerbates the problem.

And as a side comment, notice how effortlessly Scherer slipped in a ridiculous false equivalence between Fox News and the NYT Editorial page. Did you call him on it?

Thanks again.

Zvyozdochka (@Zvyozdochka) says:

It’s generational.

There is a current population in the USofA that are entirely uninterested in critical thinking, or participating in it.

Nearly anything can be said by anyone without consequence.

You’re going to need to go back to basics and teach children in school to ask “who benefits” from speach.

The problem is becoming the same in Australia.

Here’s a long shot of an idea, that oddly hit me as I read your article: lobby Congress to pass legistlation that makes it illegal for candidates for ANY public office to pander falsehoods to their potential constituents both during their campaign, and while in office. We could call it the Truth in Politics Act, and it could be managed either by a nonpartisan arm of congress like the CBO, or the FEC.

Before I catch hell for suggesting that we ‘restrict the free speech’ of do-whatever-it-takes-and-tell-whatever-lie-is-necessary-to-get-elected career politicians, allow me to explain my logic. When a politician decides to run for public office, it’s for a variety of reasons that revolve around that individuals belief system, but the driving motivation is usually self serving. If politicians were driven by the need to serve ‘we the people’, there would be no need for them to lie to further their respective party’s platform. The truth of the matter is that politicians only lie to further their own interests when the truth simply won’t cut it.

Government is not entitled to free speech. Supreme Court case after case has repeatedly affirmed that (seperation of church and state via high court precedence is an example that immediately comes to mind). So why should those who draft legistlation on behalf of the government be entitled to free, and decietful, speech? Misleading the electorate doesn’t benefit the electorate in the slightest, it only benefits those that do the misleading. In my opinion, it constitutes election fraud in that votes were stolen using deliberately false information (RE: SEC law – you cannot induce others to trade on information that you know to be false).

Another inconvenient truth is that we can no longer rely on the Fox News’s and CNN’s of the world to call out politicians’ use of misinformation. It doesn’t have anything to do with journalistic integrity either. At the end of the day, every MSM outlet consults their balance sheet as a measure of success just like every other corporation on the planet. And like every other corporation on the planet, MSM outlets have a duty to their shareholders first and foremost. This means that entertaining the viewers irrational fears of the other side takes precedence over actual journalism, ensuring that the ratings stay up, and the ad dollars continue to be spent.

And finally, what would be the punishment for such a crime? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Some fringe SuperPAC just spent $10 million to run a tv ad campaign that makes outrageously false claims. The Truth in Politics Act would take an eye for an eye and hit them where it really hurts: a $10 million fine for them! Consider how outraged donors would be knowing that a large chunk of their money is being spent on 1) deliberately false ads, and 2) fines for those ads. Some may not care about the former, but the latter is just a waste of money that would have accomplished nothing. Actually it would have accomplished the goal….bringing the truth back into politics.

Just a thought!

Ken Patterson says:

If the primary responsibility of MSM is to their shareholders, then they shouldn’t be calling it ‘news’.

And, sorry, that penalty system is not good enough. A politician lies, they’re done. Too many lives are at stake. At it’s easiest, it should be a 3 strikes system involving jail time and heavy fines. This is not a game.

David Wynn says:


There are two things I would put forward as potential remedies.

1) Lying and bad prediction records should follow politicians whenever they’re mentioned.

As a technical guy, I can see this as a web extension (or javascript library) where anytime a name is printed onscreen, a badge with a link is generated next to it. That badge represents at a glance how frequently the person has failed fact checks, with a weight towards recent lies, and rolling over/clicking the link shows a tooltip with more detailed information.

I like this because I think most people’s memories are un-usefully short. We forgive politicians who make dubious claims and pundits who make catastrophically wrong predictions overnight, and we need a method of more firmly tying a person’s reputation to their at-a-glance profile. That allows people to bring the moral context of a person into any given story without any extra effort.

I can see a similar badge for TV, though it could really take any form such as tinging the names of people a certain color, or showing a smiling/frowning face next to them.

2) We need more intuitive and visual methods of diagramming arguments

It seems to me that we’ve been locked into simple methods of serious political discussion: talking heads or editorials/speeches.

These are perfectly fine, but there’s nothing in their structure that makes the passages with lies more apparent than the passages with truth. If one side claims “government spending always crowds out investment” and the other has three case studies showing that’s not the case, I should be able to visually tell at a glance that one side is more supported than the other.

I worry a lot about this question, which I most clearly saw in the The American Life episode where a climate scientist tries to convince a climate skeptic of her position and fails. The defeatist might say that there’s nothing that could convince the skeptic, but I think a more visual representation of the information would go a long way.

It may not solve the accuracy problem, but it at least gets everyone talking on a level that fact-checking institutions can constructively chime in on.

One thing we need, and this is only a small thing, is live fact checking during the debates by the moderators.

Even more exciting? Allow what everyone accused Bush of having hidden in his jacket in his debates vs. Kerry. Actually allow an earpiece from a support team for each candidate. See how well their teams can aid them in the debate.

String up by the thumbs anyone who claims “both sides do it”.

If I embrace what Jay says as a fact and act on it, am I a good reporter?

More seriously:

The idea that marketing can squelch the truth is a fact. We should act on it and reorganise our workflow in such way, that marketing is exposed on a daily basis. But we should use a recognisable format and not include it our expose’s in daily beats.

In The Netherlands, NRC Next (a paid daily) has a full page of fact checking each day. A minister said recently: “The interest rates are down because a socialist politician said we shouldn’t care about the European budget norm of 3%” . He was thoroughly checked and exposed with a logo “Not True”, see http://www.nrcnext.nl/blog/2012/08/23/next-checkt-door-uitspraken-roemer-ging-rente-omhoog-en-dat-kost-nederland-gewoon-geld/

I would love to see that every news organisation has at least one item like that a day. “True or not” / “Lies or Truth” . Systematically. Any news organisation that says such format can’t be done on a daily basis, is probably doomed anyway.

John Nixon says:

Agreed. But your second remark?? Making a format of the truth?

RJ Kirker says:

Track down those responsible for an ad that fronts an apparent lie and do what we’ve always done – give them an opportunity to defend their message. If they decline, report they’ve done so. If warranted, lead with the refusal. Then get comment from the other side. Let the reader or the viewer sort it out.

Punitive journalism isn’t anything new, we simply shy away from the notion it exists. I see no problem when it’s employed evenly and without favor. Both camps will ultimately figure out that a false claim is going to result in the other side being gifted 60 seconds or so of free air or a bunch of column inches of ink.

Where there’s a compelling public interest, “doing nothing” isn’t one of the options. Give both sides an opportunity to make their case. Then report the story.

[…] You re not entitled to your own facts vs. That s your opinion. Kiss my ad. by Jay Rosen […]

[ ” What if the grand narrative is itself a lie ? … Political journalists are going to report that ? No. They are not. ” –Jay Rosen ]


At some point, most all professional journalists cross a dark line.

They accept temporal cultural assumptions, societal customs, and civic rituals as fundamental truths (“grand narrative”).

Like most people, journalists tend not to question the basic cultural narrative. Openly questioning such things immediately relegates one to a disfavored minority status, with unpleasant social and economic consequences. GroupThink dominates journalism at the basic gut level.

In this process of years of acquiescence, all but a few journalists lose their ability to clearly discern truth at all. This is especially so when they move beyond the immediately obvious news stories, such as traffic accidents or simple crimes– into the complex realms of politics, economics, or science.

In such conceptual areas, journalists readily accept that their job is not to go after what’s true & real — but rather to report what “others” say is true & real. In practice, this means journalists accept the majority view, or the politically-correct view within their profession.

After crossing that line, repeating/reporting “others” opinions becomes their main product — especially opinions of “those who matter” …. those in positions of power… and most especially the opinions of the powerful people who reflect the journalism profession’s own dominant biases (left-liberal progressivism).

Opinions become equal to truth. To the typical journalist, news sources espousing politically/socially correct views within the ‘grand-narrative’ will instantly feel more right & valid.

Truth is unnecessary to the grand-narrative… and usually an obstacle to be avoided.


“Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism… that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.”

— Arthur S. Brisbane, the New York Times
(26 Aug 2012)


paladin_52 says:

Well said.

This is what journalism has become: liberals creating “news”/memes/narratives for other liberals.

From reading posts and comments here, I’d never imagine that Obama ever uttered a false word or endorsed a false political ad.

It just doesn’t seem in the realm of possibility here.

Yet there seems some genuine confusion over why press credibility is dropping like a stone with the American public.

Well, after all, this is a post about a Republican lie. Are you so jaded that you think the appropriate response is to immediately counter with a democratic lie? That would be nothing but a side show.

When dissecting a frog’s heart it’s important not to become distracted by its liver.

paladin_52 says:

Thanks for making my point.

Journalism is no longer about separating facts from fiction, or even about the elusive “truth”, it is all about GO TEAM GO!

It’s the old adage, “information is power.” The right has been engaged, quite successfully so far, in a war to control the information in this country. Its assault has been on multi fronts: from getting Intelligent Design to be equally taught with evolution in the classroom, on the environment with its relentless denial of global warming caused by human activities, to the intimidating ‘the media is liberal biased’ and its crown jewel, Fox News with its self-proclaimed ‘fair and balanced’, of which everyone knew it was a blatant lie — well everyone if you exclude the network’s gullible audience. The media is so afraid to offend the right — loss of ad revenue, lost of accessibility to interview the celebrity politicians — that it bends backward to accomodate the lies. See CNN trying ridiculously to be ‘fair and balanced’. The cancer has taken roots and is agressively spreading. And now what to do about it? I have no doubt that a Romney win will cement this victory as total. And it will be too late by then. Until then, it’s up to the voters to reject the GOP and shut it out from the presidency and both houses. Only then will the moderates be able to take back that party. But I’m not that optimistic.

Your article and the discussion are particularly relevant for me. I have soured on the mainstream media and have embarked on “Citizen Journalism”. My partial response below to the August 27th, 2012, Wall Street Journal editorial titled Cheesecake Factory Medicine targeting Paul Ryan’s critics and the architects of ObamaCare (http://tiny.cc/y9arjw) describes my frustration and offers feature for a course that I’m pursuing.

For complete response (wp.me/p1ynAA-4R)

“Neither the “liberal assault on Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform” nor attacking on the “intellectual architects”, “godfather”… “murderer’s row of liberal health-care gurus” of “Obamacare” by the editorial board of the WSJ will achieve the changes needed for our sick health care system. ……

We need to get past the fear mongering, hypocrisy, crony capitalism that has infected our politics. Unfortunately, leadership will not come from our political leaders, nor from ideologically motivated editorial boards of media conglomerates. If we are to transform our health care system (and we must), we must move past the divisive ritual of personal attacks, comparisons to other health care systems, socialist or for profit, personal opinions and anecdotes and utilize actual scientific established measures for the quality of care delivered and the cost (value) of care. We can have the best health care system in the world.

For a start, what if the WSJ, rather than attacking the Affordable Care Act, Peter Orszag and the other “Obamacare” villains, embraced George P. Shultz, Arnold Milstein and Robert Krughoff’s idea, in September 20, 2011, WSJ Editorial, that call for implementing “The Affordable Care Act provision that would greatly advance the power of measurement and public reporting.”http://www.hoover.org/news/daily-report/93341

What if the WSJ “crowd sourced” the more than 500 commentators on this article and the millions of Twitter and Facebook followers to check on the quality and value of healthcare services in their community?”

You can learn more of our plans for citizen journalism at citiznes4health.org.

The Limits of Journalism…

“Dear media critics: OK, entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?” The observation and question, which belong to David Bernstein, moved Jay Rosen to reflect on Daniel Patrick Moyniha…

It is clear that Jay is more interested in fighting for his team than fighting for the truth.

Can a TV network legally refuse to run a campaign ad that is a lie? Can a network legally refuse to run *any* ad from an organization that is currently releasing lying ads?

fausto412 says:

yes they can but they don’t because that is not profitable.

Ken Patterson says:

Make it illegal for any politician to lie. Problem solved. Next!

Seriously tho. A politician has influence over too many people’s lives. Part of their responsibility is to protect citizens.. and that includes from politicians. There lies harm and kill people.

Occasional Observer says:

The pattern’s the thing. A campaign can present policy options to the public in an honest way expecting to be held to account in an honest debate on the merits, or it can shun debate, prey on fear, resentment and hatred and, in Karl Mannheim’s phrase, “demolish the basis of its opponent’s social and intellectual existence.” In Mannheim’s taxonomy that distinguishes a candidate intent on a contest conducted within liberal-democratic parameters from one who attacks such an opponent from an ideology that, here, must not be named.

The former are never completely free of untruths, but they don’t base their strategy on them. The latter do since an informed electorate is not among their aims. To their way of thinking, all political ideas are myths.

The difference is discernible in character traits but needn’t turn on that. It can be made objective early enough in a campaign to call out the second kind of office-seeking.

The salient difference between (a) the ad about the death of the steelworker’s wife and (b) (i) treating Obama’s quote of McCain as his own words, (ii) “he took $716 billion from Medicare,” (iii) the “you didn’t build that” attack ad, and (iv) the “no work requirement” line, is numerical.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was something called the credibility gap. There, a public less cynical, more engaged and endowed with a longer attention span than ours, and blessed with news media that were not as far flung and variously compromised as ours, could decide how much trust to put in a politician based on the pattern shown over time in things that politician said. There were gradations, and while partisan thinking was always in the mix, there were limits beyond which candidates were shamed by all respectable opinion.

The press has a choice. It can treat the people of the United States as citizens of a democratic republic – rehabituate them to that role – by revitalizing the credibility gap, or it can throw up its hands as we slip into a different kind of political regime while the world gasps.

I have scant confidence in their courage or will, but no one will convince me that they cannot help – could not have helped – to save this republic.

Bill Michtom says:

One problem with Scherer’s premise is that comparing Fox & the NYTimes is a hugely false equivalence. Fox consistently presents a politicized story while the Times–and most liberal publications–do not. The Times, especially, often errs toward the right: pushing “free trade,” militarism, etc.

I appreciate that Jay added to the end of the After Matter that he is aware of the Democratic Presidential campaign fact-check resistance ads.

Obama Camp Says Romney An Animal Abusing, Tax Dodging Criminal Who Kills Women With Cancer While Plotting To Reinstitute Slavery. Media Says Romney To Blame For Negative Campaign

fausto412 says:

well, he did strap the dog to the roof of a car on a road trip did he not?(not that i think it is relevant to being president)

He does have offshore accounts which are typically used to avoid taxes does he not?…tax havens are not illegal but their use speaks to how someone got that rich and his refusal to show his tax returns implies he doesn’t want us to see just that. I don’t have offshore accounts. I don’t have money to park somewhere away from the IRS.

The cancer ad was fair. He boasts about his business record…he closed a plant, laid off workers and they lost their medical insurance. His business successes are not all cookies and milk…sometimes in business there is collateral damage. He can’t say “I know how to run a business, i was a success” and then not tell the voters “i fired people and some died because they lost their health insurance but who cares! i made a ton of money on the deal. Let me be president!”
Think about the implications…is he going to be the first president since Clinton to balance the budget and boast about it but nobody is supposed to point out that based on his proposed plans balancing the budget and being a success in that area means the destruction of the safety net and that there will be serious damage left behind for someone else to resolve. We didn’t have a safety net before the 1930’s…the great depression showed why we needed it and it was finally implemented.

paladin_52 says:

Tim, what most upsets the left is that Romney isn’t playing nicey-nice with street fighter Obama like McCain did, but rather challenges him on his own turf—Chicago Way politics.

When McCain brought a knife to the fight, Obama brought a gun. Now Romney is bringing a gun to Obama’s knife fight and Axelrod and his allies in the press haven’t figured out how to counter that.

Well, other than whine that Romney won’t unilaterally disarm. lol

All this will be moot when, not if, president Romney declares war on Iran. especially that Iran will be getting nukes any day. Romney will not want to be remembered that it happened under his watch. Moreover, one can never underestimate the attraction that history accords to a war president. Lastly, that war will deflect all other criticism as Romney has no plan to revive the economy. In fact he will see that war as a God-send.

paladin_52 says:

Fausto I hear Gail Collins is getting a policy position if Obama wins a second term.

Also, you might have a point if facts didn’t matter; all this stuff happened AFTER Romney left Bain, but you just rock on with your bad self and believe everything you see on MSNBC and the NYTimes.

Obama is counting on low IQ/information voters like you to win.

PS: FYI, Clinton was able to balance the budget with the “helpful” prodding of the First GOP Controlled Congress In 40 Years. Not that this tiny fact will change your opinion. lol

PSS: Isn’t it time for someone here to start shrieking about the latest MSM approved meme—the GOP is raaaacist?

Gee, you suppose the MSM will bring up Joe Biden’s racist “put y’all back in chains” remark during the Dem convention?

Nah–don’t make me laugh!

[…] press is all a-twitter over the Romney campaign’s recent brazen disregard for facts. They’ve discovered that […]

Occasional Observer says:

Update: Today, Paul Krugman posted “Unconventional” on his website. He noticed a pattern of lies that largely overlaps the one I noted on this comment thread. I recycled most of my remarks there, but I write here to call attention to his perplexity, which resembles that of Jay’s fact-checking colleagues.

Speaking of lies, how about calling a squall a hurricane and getting the landfall position and ferocity completely wrong, and then never acknowledging a mistake that lasted a whole week. I’m talking about Irene of course.

George Pyle says:


Whaddya think about this one. Have to get to the 3rd graph to realize it, but this is an orderly take-down of Dinesh D’Souza’s “documentary” about Obama. From AP, no less!


What is most interesting from the view of a press critic is: How do you measure (quantify/qualify) and report – in a way that fulfills journalism’s primary purpose – Jay’s claim, “I see the situation as highly asymmetrical, with just enough on both sides to make “both sides do it” sound plausible.”

Trying to sort out “truth” and “truthiness” in daily journalism may be too difficult to do consistently. The option exists, however, for news organizations to create repositories of facts that would make it easier for daily news people to point to the actual facts regarding budgets, deficits, & other policy claims.

Something like an almanac, a source of factual information not buffeted by daily or hourly news cycles.

For example, see the graphic summary of the causes of the deficit:

[…] continues to make claims about changes Obama’s administration made to welfare requirements, which have been shown over and over again by numerous fact-checkers and journalists to be utterly fa….  But they keep right on […]

Jim Pharo says:

Friends, I’m afraid we’re missing the big picture. The American Right has for many years been waging a war on the truth. Just with GWB, we all recoiled in horror when they confessed that they just go out and create their own reality, but that’s been their plan from the get-go. These are the same forces who claimed that blacks were inferior to whites, that women were unfit to vote, that workers should have no say in their wages or working conditions, and that Iraq was an existential threat to the US.

The problem is that we have a political faction that embraces the Big Lie as a fundamental tactic, knowing that the milquetoast media will never, ever dare to call them out on it. Sadly, they’ve been mostly successful, for a very long time, so I doubt any significant change will be occurring in any of our lifetimes.

Look at what passes for “progress:” Ryan “repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama” as though some copywriter had screwed up (remember Cincinnati and yellowcake?). If the press wanted to throw a hissy-fit, they surely know how: RYAN PERSISTS IN PUSHING LIES, CAMPAIGN SPX SAYS NO PLANS TO PULL DECEPTIVE ADS.

It’s not like we don’t know how. We just lack the will to fight for the truth.

In my line of professional work (I.T.) I have on many occasions been involved in changes where a group of I.T. Delivery people who were not being managed properly suddenly found themselves being managed. The results were invariably an outbreak of major light heat and sound, along the lines of “How DARE you manage me!”.
We will witness the same petulant BS and foot-stamping from politicians and their advisors when their lies are challenged by the media. The important thing is for the media to not pay any attention to the roaring petulance, and instead quietly but firmly continue to point out the untruths. This will require some spinal rigidity, since you can expect that the petulance will move through multiple stages:

1. “You are merely expressing an opinion and your opinion is wrong” (we’re at this stage now)
2. “You are biased”
3. “We will not talk to you in future”

(2) needs to be countered by a simple statement along the lines of “Yes, we are biased, in favor of the truth”.
(3) is BS, for the simple reason that politicians need publicity like you or I need oxygen. The right answer is to call their bluff and continue to point out the untruths. After a few weeks of that, the politicians will be back demanding airtime. Then the right answer is “We will allow you on air, but you must answer ALL of our questions”.
That is the opportunity to reset the rules of the game.
The alternative to these three stages, that the media folds, is possible, but it will completely extinguish the mass media.

“The alternative to these three stages, that the media folds, is possible, but it will completely extinguish the mass media.”

Still the most likely outcome, in my view, is that this will be a temporary spasm and the mood of challenge will continue around the welfare ad, but dissipate elsewhere. It won’t look like a fold but a gradual ramping down of tension with the campaign.

But I could be wrong.

The “next innovation” is simply confronting these a-holes with their own lines at every turn. Bring it up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Anonymous At Work says:

The next step in this process is always the same. Whenever a problem becomes too diffuse, too prevalent and too threatening to many individuals who have a common denominator, they form a group or collective to deal with the problem. Unions, trade guilds, professional associations all were created to deal with shoddy worksmanship, flim-flam artists, con men, etc that were demeaning and threatening the members’ livelihoods. That the members could make extra money was a bonus. And as problems escalated that threatened these groups, the groups’ response was inevitably to strengthen both the front-end screening and the back-end compliance systems.
What will happen next in political media is that ads, speeches and the like will be subject to group-level scrutiny rather than individual fact-checkers and these groups will use common terminology to communicate falsehoods. As this becomes ineffective over time, the back-end measures will become harsher and the screenings may include pre-clearance measures.

[…] from misleading the public? That’s the question on the minds of many journalists and commentators after Paul Ryan’s speech last night at the Republican National Convention, which continued the […]

[…] after years of urging from people like Jay Rosen and Dan Conover, there’s a good chance that political campaigning has reached a tipping […]

[…] New Republic, Ezra Klein at The Washington Post, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, press critic Jay Rosen, and Brendan Nyhan at Columbia Journalism […]

[…] radiating from the Romney/Ryan campaign, media writer Mathew Ingram and journalism professor Jay Rosen’s critiques on political coverage are essential reading.  To […]

[…] modern politician with statewide or national ambitions has ushered in the post-truth era. Those who would lead us have decided that factual accuracy firmly attached to proper context no […]

[…] modern politician with statewide or national ambitions has ushered in the post-truth era. Those who would lead us have decided that factual accuracy firmly attached to proper context no […]

[…] read “‘You’re not entitled to your own facts’ vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss… It’s an amazing take on what “facts” mean in today’s political landscape. […]

[…] what to do? Frankly, I have no idea, and I’m not alone. It seems that with media more fractured and people moving to news sources that confirm their views […]

[…] also delighted that NYU’s Jay Rosen, the Atlantic’s James Bennett and others have begun to address an issue that Calbuzz has long […]

SolutionOriented says:

Why shouldn’t candidates and campaigns be made to preface their statements with the following: I _____ have reviewed and taken reasonable actions to determine the truth of the matter asserted and hereby represent that I knowingly assert the following statements as true. If subsequently determined to be false, I accept liability in the amount of ________ as a penalty for the dissemination of lies. Such language would preface all statements from a campaign and would be contractually agreed to when they take out the paperwork from each jurisdiction to run or have their name appear as a candidate. Just think of the penalty as another way to balance government budgets.

There is so much name-calling and distortion coming from both Republicans and Democrats, I defy anyone to prove that one side does it more than the other.

This is what it would take to prove that kind of claim:

And this is one of the routine sources of antagonism in politics. Each side gets outraged at the other side’s name-calling, but not their own, and then they call for the OTHER side to uphold civil debate, even as they ignore it themselves. This doesn’t inspire civility, it only inspires further outrage at the hypocrisy of your opponent’s call for civility and makes things worse.

The call for civil debate has become empty rhetoric:

Is there any politician out there who will openly criticize members of their own party (or even themselves) for resorting to name-calling?

This is an analysis that leads nowhere. I know. I tried it for years.

[…] Rosen of NYU touched on the subject in a post with the awesome title of “Your’re not entitled to your own facts versus that’s your opinion kiss my ad,&#82… when he mentioned heavily-debunked Mitt Romney add accusing President Obama of removing work […]

Interesting piece, but your central example (the flap over Obama’s waiver of the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act) is falling apart. The fact-checkers all latched onto the HHS’s response, which required that states increase by 20% the number of people moving from welfare to work before they would be granted a waiver, as the key piece of “evidence” that debunked Romney’s claims.

They accepted this “evidence,” even though it was after-the-fact spin from a government agency desperately trying to escape the political landmine it had just triggered. Moreover, the 20% “requirement” was grasped from thin air and backed by no law or rule. These uber-journalists did so without skepticism, even though (1) Obama has greatly expanded the entitlement state, making it plausible that he would roll-back a reform that had the opposite effect; (2) the Administration had every incentive to say anything to make it seem as though the key provision of a popular and bi-partisan reform bill was not being undone by bureaucratic fiat (the word “waiver” could not more perfectly support Romney’s position); (3) no other president has tried such a gimmick in the 16 years since the reform law passed; (4) Obama himself had expressed disapproval of the law when it was passed; and, (5) HHS is full of policymakers whose opposition to the law is well-known.

The Heritage Foundation did some actual work, and explained why the 20% figure is not meaningful. It is likely to increase on its own with economic improvement, and the most sure-fire way for states to meet this “requirement” (and get the waiver) is to put more people on welfare (an alternative is to marginally improve records keeping).

If you still think that this war of words, over a policy yet to be enacted, is something that is easily subject to a four point scale, justifying the publication of statements that a major political candidate is a “liar” (or something akin to that), you’re one of two things: (1) grossly overconfident in your ability to decide political arguments with empirical certainty or (2) in the tank for Obama. I don’t discount the possibility that you are both.

This is exactly why careful journalists don’t go around calling politicians liars without something rock solid. I think a traditional journalist could have easily written about this in an even-handed manner, and left the decision about who is right up to the voters. And, in an instance like this, where there is no real “right” answer (it’s really a debate about how expansive you want the welfare state to be), that’s exactly where the decision making should occur.


[…] This has been the subject of several posts at the Press Think blog of NYU professor/leading media critic Jay Rosen, most recently, ”You’re not entitled to your own facts’ vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad“. […]

Eyal Oren says:

How to stop the misleading Ads? It’s actually ridiculously simple…the networks need to refuse to run them. That’s it. Takes some moral fiber on their part but the campaigns will quickly adjust and produce ads that pass a possible ‘bipartisan fact checking committee’ that would be put in place to screen them.

[…] “You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. » Pressthink […]

[…] http://pressthink.org/ “You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad.” […]

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