‘Democrats argue. Republicans contend. We have no idea.’ A he said, she said at the Times.

May.
11
Classic forms of he said, she said are not so much a “sin” against high practice as an increasingly crappy level of service for what is supposed to be a high end product: New York Times reporting.

Saturday the New York Times published on its front page an article by reporter Jeremy W. Peters about Republican Senator Rand Paul criticizing his party for backing laws that make it harder for some people to vote by requiring forms of identification they may not have. Unquestionably, this was news. The Times report included this paragraph:

Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties. Democrats argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification. Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.

Excuse me: Would you happen to know, New York Times, whether fraud at the polls is “rife in today’s elections?” Is that something I should expect you to know, seeing as you are the high-end product in the national news marketplace? Or is Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have no idea a good enough standard, and it is my expectations that are out of scale?

In this article, at least, the Times does not know whether cheating is rife in today’s elections. But it knows of a passion for polarizing the issue among the bases of both parties. This helps makes it a classic in the “he said, she said” genre.

Look, we have no idea who’s right. How would we? Figure it out for yourselves! Don’t be asking us to sort out what’s real from what’s fiction. We’re just New York Times journalists. We don’t do “there’s no basis for that.” We do “Republicans contend…”

I’m satirizing but to make a point: this standard isn’t good enough. At least since the launch of Politifact.com in 2007 — which does do “sorry, there’s no basis for that,” sometimes — it’s been made clear to mainstream practitioners in the U.S. that the classic forms of he said, she said are not so much a “sin” against high practice as an increasingly crappy level of service for what is supposed to be an upscale product: New York Times reporting. If you can say (reliably) there’s no evidence for… and you don’t, how well have you done by Times authority?

Here I hand the mic to a fellow blogger of this one sad but (we think) telling paragraph, Felix Salmon, now of Fusion. Felix broke it down proposition by proposition: False equivalency in the NYT. (“How Jeremy Peters’s voter ID reporting is even more wrong than you think.”) I urge you to read his post and come back to this one.

Meanwhile, this report from — hey! — the New York Times in 2007 testifies:

Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Also this from Politifact/Georgia rating as “mostly true” the claim that in-person voter fraud is a very rare phenomenon, so rare that “only 10 cases of in-person voter fraud have been proven nationally.”

Or this in 2013 from Politifact/Texas: “By our reading of the attorney general’s records, 18 instances of voter fraud have been confirmed in Texas since 2002.” That’s an average of 1.6 cases per year. In a state where more than a million votes are cast in an off year. Rife?

Or read what law professor and election law scholar Richard L. Hasen, author of The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (Yale University Press: 2012) has to say on how “rife” it is:

Federal Judge Lynn Adelman looked at the evidence from Wisconsin and reached a conclusion unsurprising to those of us who study how elections are run. “Virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” Adelman wrote, “and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future.”

Wisconsin is not alone in lacking such evidence. When the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter ID law in 2008, the state conceded there was no evidence, ever, of impersonation fraud in the entire state.

As Salmon says, you don’t have to pretend that there is a lot of fraud to be in favor of more controls. “In fact, you don’t even need to think that cheating exists in order to support such measures. It’s entirely rational to support a voter ID law even if cheating is rare or nonexistent, on the grounds that cheating is just too easy right now and that you want to make it harder.”

So what is that exceedingly crappy paragraph doing there on the newspaper-of-record’s front page? Salmon says it’s laziness. (“He-said-she-said is so easy, for a journalist on deadline, that both journalists and editors tend not to really thinking about exactly what they’re saying.”) Certainly ease-of-use is part of the device’s fading delights.

Here’s how I described the appeal of he said, she said in 2009. It makes the story writable on deadline when you don’t know enough to sort things out. In a “he said, she said” classic:

* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)

* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.

* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter [and the user] in the middle between polarized extremes.

I question whether that between-two-extremes territory, the “you figure it out/for us partisan polarization rules” space is valuable turf in the news business. I doubt that it’s “safe,” either, if you mean by safe: won’t do the brand harm. I think it’s likely to corrode trust over time. A conventional explanation for he said, she said says: it may be lazy or incomplete, but it is also a safe middle ground place to land so you can get the damn paper out!

But it’s not that safe. Democrats argue/Republicans contend/We have No Idea… increasingly won’t cut it for the Times, or its competitors like the FT, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Bloomberg. The upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to, the core loyalists who are being asked to finance more of the operation— these users are increasingly likely to know about various preponderance-of-evidence calls independent of whether the Times knows enough to include that review in its reporting. When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand.

My sense: What was acceptably lame under market conditions that Bill Keller began with is a more corrosive practice today. I think The Masthead knows it. This is one of the reasons they created the Upshot, where preponderance of evidence, not a summary of partisan talking points, is supposed to be the baseline practice.

A good way to prove it: The Upshot looks at the evidence and makes a call on “Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.”

33 Comments

  1. Dick Polman says:

    Do you really want to undercut your fine argument by referring, in your very first sentence, to “Senator RON Paul?” A quick fix!

  2. Jay Rosen says:

    Fixed. Thanks.

  3. James says:

    You are exactly right about how that kind of lazy, mindless reporting corrodes trust over time.

    The New York Times political shop is just horrible any more; they are turning out just mindless, lazy boilerplate day after day. It seems as though most of their better reporters have either been poached, or else reassigned to foreign bureaus. (NOTE: Matt Bai has also been poached, but he isn’t included in the “better reporter” category.) Abramson seems to be more of a Howell Raines than a Bill Keller, who, whatever else you can say about him, he had quite an excellent Washington Bureau, post-Judith Miller. I miss Dean Baquet.

    Anyway, that’s why I canceled my New York Times subscription (not that they would miss me.) I can get that kind of boilerplate he said/she said anywhere on the internets free of charge.

  4. Andrew says:

    You and Salmon make good points, but there are even more problems with this model.

    One is that even if you accept it at face value, it excludes by design any view that’s neither in the Rep or Dem camp. And since on many issues they’re substantively indistinguishable, this makes a mockery of the notion of ‘objectivity’, or views that are ‘fair and balanced’. Even a model that introduced (gasp) a third party perspective would be a vast step forward to this crap.

    And on subjects like Israel/ Palestine, just accurately voicing a Palestinian perspective would be a dramatic improvement. There we get only ‘he said/he said’. And on numerous foreign policy issues, we just get ‘according to government officials’, as though we reading Pravda in the Soviet era.

    But then there are things like health care, social security, and financial regulation. On these and many other topics, the majority of people (polls vary, but range in the 70-90 percentiles) want medicaid and medicare improved and expanded (and are basically pleased w/ the programs); want s.s. expanded, not curtailed or cut; and want financial institutions regulated and white collar crimes punished. Yet since both the Dems and Repubs favor cutting programs that serve the population and deregulating banking and other industries, the NYTimes and corporate media generally ignore what most people want and believe. So what’s ‘objective’ represents basically ‘inside the beltway’, corporate, and elite views.

    And this isn’t surprising, either, when you consider how the media organizations are funded and run, how journalists are trained, etc. And of course, this has been well studied, well documented, and has been said many times…(Is there anything different now? Or is it that the media landscape has changed enough that corporate media is faced with competition and is beginning to respond…?)

    Basic point: the ‘he said/she said’ fever is just one symptom in a widespread and vicious malady.

  5. Brian says:

    Most media pooh-bahs engage in self-delusional thinking like “Trust in the news media is going down because people only want to hear points of view like their own” or “People only want free news.”

    This is no doubt true in some cases but for the most part, what’s happening is nothing more than media consumers acting like any other consumer.

    When the quality of a product keeps plummeting and the price remains the same, most consumers will stop buying the product.

    Jay Rosen gets this.

  6. janinsanfran says:

    Interesting. I consume a great deal of NYT, but I never glanced at the Rand Paul story. Apparently I’ve learned to skip their national political coverage; I instinctively know I will have seen better elsewhere. I also skip anything remotely related to Israel. I read the Times by byline: Savage, Mazetti, Bernstein, a few others. And always skeptically.

    That is, I’m retired and affluent enough to afford the NYT in this selective fashion. That’s probably not a sustainable business model.

  7. Larry Kart says:

    The missing piece here is, I think, that the NYT engages in he said/she said because (harkening back to the Karl Rove era) it is simply afraid of being tagged as a liberal paper. By the same token, last week the CBS national radio news reported on the Obama administration’s climate change report and in the next breath aired a clip from some professor at Lehigh (I think) who not only claimed that the report was scientifically false but also said that the report was the result of a conspiracy on the part of environmental activists and businesses that would benefit from new regulations that would arise should the report be believed. At the top of the next hour, the clip from the guy from Lehigh had been replaced on CBS by one from a professor at Princeton, who said much the same thing about the supposed falseness of the report but left out the conspiracy claims.

    • Kaufmann says:

      “NYT engages in he said/she said because… it is simply afraid of being tagged as a liberal paper.”

      -

      Nope, the NYTimes is quite proud & comfortable with that indisputable fact. The problem is indeed sloppy/lazy journalism.

      Reporters face the daily choice of painstakingly researching news stories…. or just writing whatever some people said. Both approaches pay the same at the NYTimes (apparently).

      As to researching in-person voter fraud — how exactly would a serious journalist do that ? Seems exceedingly difficult. Since most U.S. polling places do not require ID — how would one gather broad, accurate statistics on the amount of in-person voter fraud ? Would the absence of such factual statistics automatically disprove any speculation about the existence of such fraud ?

  8. Jay Schiavone says:

    As with the example of the perennial claim of voter fraud by the GOP, most of these he said/she said signoffs provide cover for one position that is plainly, demonstrably not true. The Times does not have the gumption to identify the Republican party’s talking points as bald lies. Voter fraud, science, economics, guns, whatever; the GOP is obliged to stake out the exceedingly narrow interests of large corporations. In order to do this they must lie. If The Times calls them out, then the paper faces an onslaught of abuse from their advertisers and then the politicians and their acolytes.
    The question is, does Jay Rosen have the will to point out what causes the type of journalism he decries? Haven’t seen it yet.

  9. Another excellent piece by Jay Rosen, rich with insight about failure to adapt and holding on to failed false equivalence.

    The cited piece should, for sure, should have gone on, after the verb “contend,” to say there is little to no evidence supporting this contention about widespread voter fraud — but from experience I assure you that would just result in a contentious conversation with editors.

    I hope Jay will next take on false “shorthand” that the NYT (and WashPost/WSJ) use all the time in tax, finance and other money stories, which degrades debate.

    • The cited piece should, for sure, should have gone on, after the verb “contend,” to say there is little to no evidence supporting this contention about widespread voter fraud — but from experience I assure you that would just result in a contentious conversation with editors.

      So you’re saying editors are the real people to blame? If so, we need to start publicly naming names and shame them into changing.

  10. Tracy says:

    The “Republicans contend cheating is rife,” leaped off the page yesterday and I immediately emailed the author of the article. I’m wondering where he got his degree in stenography.

  11. billinboston says:

    Democrats “argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification” Excuse me, New York Times, but can you quote someone who said this was their intention? Can you quote statistics on whether poor voters specifically have difficulty obtaining identification, and just what forms of identification are required that are difficult for poor voters to obtain. The reporter’s laziness here extends to both sides of the debate, and you might have mentioned that point, Jay.

    • But Bill, it is true! Democrats DO argue that voter ID laws are intended to keep poor people away from the polls, yet there is scant (any?) evidence of difficulty in obtaining identification.

      Instead, we are told apocryphal tales of super-annuated nuns without birth certificates and residents of Pennsylvania Deutsch country who can’t get ID because they were born in Puerto Rico (ridiculous, as anyone born in PR is a US citizen, and they do keep records there). It is just one of those liberal things, like Manhattan residents’ antediluvian distrust of vaccination, pasteurization and male circumcision.

  12. Mark J. McPherson says:

    Laziness and/or sloppiness is not a business model, not even for the Times. It might be economic, however, for a stressed organization like the Times to fill the demand for content with more cut-and-paste material provided by the subjects of its articles, rather than to expend shoe-leather and brain cells in traditional pre-internet reporting. It is just so much easier and safer to sit at a terminal and search and aggregate what the web has already put out, including the talking points from the principles.

    I think Larry Kart is right, that the Times has become highly sensitized over time, to charges of liberal bias. The Times has been the hard-right’s main whipping boy since at least the age of Nixon. Agnew’s scatter-shot broadsides against the nattering nabobs of negativism became more tightly targeted toward the Times following the leak of the Pentagon Papers in the early ’70′s, and the drumbeat against the Time hasn’t slackened since. By the early-to-mid ’90′s, this political agenda had a corresponding commercial outlet in the rise of talk radio and Fox News. The Times had long grown used to operating under continual political fire, but by that time they were under a dual 24/7 radio and cable news barrage from within their own industry segment. AOS, Jr became editor in ’92 and the Times came online around ’96. AOS, Jr. took over at a time when the Paper of Record was feeling its wary way onto a new medium and platform, all the while drawing enfilading fire from conservatives who now had an always-on platform of their own from which to rake the Times’ decks. There were telltale signs first in the Times’ prolonged Whitewater stalking of the Clintons and their credulous coverage of the various and sundry politically motivated scandals. The Clinton’s core dysfunction may have provided the opening, but the Times coverage seems to me an early instance of the paper’s willingness to, or at least their obliviousness to the fact that they were being used by the right to advance an agenda, even as those same forces kept pounding away at the paper on a daily basis.

    George W. Bush’s election was heralded in by the then-still-ascending Fox News and talk radio empires and it was the Times itself (and not a Democratic POTUS after midterms) that seemed to be desperately seeking to sustain a level of relevancy. There followed, although mostly in the NYT Magazine, a series of peculiarly amendable profiles of some of the leading rightwing agitprop agitators, like Rush and Beck. And then 9-11 hit too close to home for the soon-to-be embedded Times, and Judy Miller, and Bill Keller and all those awful columns and television appearances from certain op-ed columnists who seemed even prouder to subjugate traditional journalistic principles in favor of patriotic boosterism. The Times had suffered mission-drift under duress and had lost its way and become an all-but-enlisted disinformation tool rather than the paper of record. By the latter stages of the Bush Administration, the Times was a paper in need of finding a new route home News coverage during the AOS, Jr era has been increasingly reactive and defensive to charges of liberal bias, and it has resulted in an exasperatingly bland and nutrition-free diet of self-negating, he-said/she-said articles, and this nullifying need to counter-balance all pointiness spread to the Op-Ed page as well. Jay provides a good example in Voter-ID issues, where the principles have reliably counted on the Times fierce credibility to manufacture the appearance of debate (there are many others — climate change, Affordable Care Act etc.).

    There’s a problem when you need to create “The Upshot” to make sense of what your own paper is reporting. With Nate Silver gone over, the Times had to find something to take his place and I actually admire the determination and effort by the Times to drag itself forward. But the Times’ preoccupation with technology and format distracted itself from addressing its main problem, the lack of focus on its traditional strength which was the foundation of all good reporting – intelligent, self-informed, discerning reporters, capable of doing the hard work and hard thinking and drawing conclusions and making rational judgments. Hire all the flash-whiz techies you need to get that product out fast and pretty, but first get back to making that sound product.

    There was a certain amount of between-the-lines chortling in the Times in the days and weeks following the Romney-slide that never was, in the coverage and comment about the genuine belief that Obama would be thumped and sent packing, supported by the “unskewering” of polls. But there was also genuine puzzlement over the fact that many Romney supporters fervently believed he would win, despite the contra-polling, which, as it turned out, reflected the actual reality. The thing that had convinced the Romney supporters and turned their minds to absolute belief that the polls were skewered to favor Obama and that Romney would win, was that they knew with even more certainty that they had already won the election on the news coverage front. They had driven the agenda clear across the country and back many times over in the thirty month Republican barnstorming campaign that was their nominating process, wherein each month some new “front-runner” grabbed the lion’s share of ink-space and oxygen, with the Times again and again dutifully reporting each round of extreme rhetoric and ranting against some objectively far-fetched aspect of Obama’s (and liberals) nature. Sure, the Times coolly qualified and bracketed their coverage, so there was always the counter-balancing view in the margins that it might be possible that most people in the country might think differently than those who had a lock on the microphone. But with all that heat and noise coming unceasingly from the right, it sounded and seemed like there lay also, all the momentum, energy and future. The polls were right, the Romney supporters were wrong. What was wrong was that Romney supporters didn’t recognize that the reporting that they shaped, in part through the malleable Times, didn’t have the polls’ relation to reality. I don’t think the Times appreciated their unwitting role in creating Romney’s delusions of victory. There was a sense of something near a sea-change as the election numbers were crunched, as if the post-election coverage were describing some newly emerging character of the country. I don’t believe the country had changed overnight at all. What had changed was that for the space of a few days and short weeks, the right-wing noise factories had seized up in stunned silence and there was a brief respite within which people could hear themselves think. But then the shutdown loomed and the machinery cranked back up into cacophony and the Times resumed recording and amplifying.

    • Seth Knoepler says:

      The nadir as far as this is concerned was when the Bush administration successfully intimidated the Times and all but a tiny handful of papers into abdicating their responsibility to critically evaluate the claims that the administration was making to lay the PR groundwork for invading Iraq. However, I remember being profoundly grateful that, along with a lot of other things, the Times editorial pages continued to feature column after column of speaking truth to power under the bylines of Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and others.

  13. JT says:

    @Tracy “Republicans contend cheating is rife” is fine if it’s immediately followed by a statement of fact. Actually, it’s good to report important false statements as long as they are called out as such.

  14. Bob says:

    Agree wholeheartedly. I hope you’re right that “it won’t cut it”. It seems like every since the right began complaining about the press 15-20 years ago in a concerted fashion, this type of journalism has been the norm.

  15. Would the errors in this paragraph really be rectified if the final sentence — “Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections” — had been appended with the clause: “…a contention that has no basis in fact”?

    @JT and @DavidCayJohnston seem to think so (although Cay Johnston adds that such a clause would never win an editor’s approval). And I think Rosen concurs (although he does not say so in as many words). Felix Salmon, on the other hand, disagrees. He asserts that the final sentence (unmodified) is worse than “not obviously true.” He suspects that it is “actually false.”

    Here is Salmon: “I’m sure that if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a member of the Republican party who believes that cheating is rife in today’s elections. Hell, you could probably even find a member of the Democratic party who believes the same thing. But in general, I don’t think that Republicans believe — or even contend —  that cheating is rife.”

    Me, I am not even convinced that the paragraph’s first sentence is obviously true either. “Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties.” I suspect that much of the intensity derives from the opportunistic calculation of organizers and activists, fundraisers and talkshow hosts, rather than from sincere outrage. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it is accurate. Either way, the sentence’s function is to set up the following pair of sentences as an explanation for the intensity of those passions.

    Therefore, the premise of Rosen’s post here — the lameness of using the he-said-she-said formula when reporting on truth claims and matters of fact — is off target. The paragraph in question does not concern itself with adjudicating matters of fact, but with accounting for intensities of passion. It purports to paraphrase two contrasting sets of strongly held, partisan talking points.

    As such, the he-said-she-said formula is not only not lame, it is actually appropriate, even essential. How else does one summarize a dueling dispute between two passionate antagonists, except by a competent paraphrase of each side’s accusation?

    Peters seems to be competent in accounting for the intensity of the passions of Democratic partisans in his paraphrase. I disagree with Salmon that it is “true” that voter ID laws are “intended to keep poor people away from the polls.” A safer statement would have been that their “impact” was to reduce voter turnout among the poor. By choosing intent instead of impact, Peters successfully explains the Democratic intensity: namely, that they believe that the laws are enacted in bad faith, for old-fashioned voter suppression.

    So we come back to the final sentence once more. How can we read such a bland and misleading statement and come away from it with an understanding of the intensity of the passion of Republican partisans? Peters asserts that issue hits a nerve for them, but citing a contention that is factually false hardly gets the job done. I suggest that there is an unspoken elision here — a whopping one — that I put in square brackets.

    “Republicans [feeling thin-skinned about attacks that their policies are racist, besieged by the prospect that poor people at the fringes of well-regulated society are overrepresented in the franchise, needing to dress up their demagoguery in the good-government rhetoric of the sanctity of the ballot box, try to take the civic moral high ground by articulating a paranoid fear that has no basis in fact, namely that they actually] contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.”

    If this is how we are to read between the lines, then, as @JaySchiavone says, such an elision illustrates how Peters “does not have the gumption to identify the Republican party’s talking points as bald lies.” At the same time, as Salmon says, Peters’ formulation does Republicans “few favors.” Per Salmon, Peters implies that these Republicans are liars — in my fantasy elision, thin-skinned, racist, hypocritical, paranoid liars at that — without quoting a single one to justify that innuendo.

    • Abadman says:

      Thank you
      I get tired of people I have never met “knowing” as fact my thoughts or intent.

  16. doubled says:

    With the billions our government spends and the hundreds of agencies and bureaus in place, how come not one has been created to help the citizen obtain an ID? Since an ID is required for so many everyday activities such as entering a government building, why is there no such assistance to those without an ID? It seems as if some want the poor/uneducated to remain on the ‘outside’, never to join/become the ‘mainstream’.

    • Doubled,
      It is a red herring, false flag. None of the people who discuss this have been poor, and thus recipients of government assistance.

      In fact, it is vital to have ID if one is poor, as it is needed to obtain benefits. Just as relevant, if one is poor and an ethnic minority, one will be stopped and questioned by law enforcement more often, due to the usual racial profiling etc. It is essential to have valid state issued photo ID in those situations.

      State ID is easily obtained from any department of Motor Vehicles. It costs between $3 and 10 and is valid for up to 20 years. The requirements to get such photo ID are quite reasonable.

  17. This sentence could use some work:

    When this kind of reader comes upon he said, she said reporting on a big story where it’s CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE, as with the right to vote: bad moment for the Times brand

    see paragraph 17.

  18. I agree with both you & Mr. Salmon’s analysis of the issues with the NYT article. I am taking a stab at this problem with my website AdvanceTheDialog, and your points play perfectly into it. The NYT broke 2 Rules: it didn’t Cite The Basis for the Repub. or Demo.’s claims, and it broke the Cover The Issue, Not ‘Politics Of’ Rule. I want to put power back in the hands of citizens!

  19. Jozef Imrich says:

    Hear hear hear, mini, power to the powerless!
    As no one should have a monopoly on he said she said not even fifth estate …

    Coda: http://althouse.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/edward-snowden-who-acted-so-drastically.html

  20. Bob says:

    Back in the 2000s, a columnist for the Washington Post (can’t remember who), wrote a column in which he examined a survey which indicated that (a) people valued newspapers and (b) people had a low opinion of newspapers. His conclusion: people don’t know what they want.

    I emailed a comment, saying that these two findings were not contradictory, but perfectly consistent with my own feelings: people like the idea of newspapers, they want to be informed, but are continually disappointed by the actual experience of reading newspapers.

    They are disappointed because they are not being informed, at least a lot of the time. And the informing that does get done is selective. Reporters love scandals! Issues, not so much.

  21. Bart says:

    Maybe “cheating is rife” refers to the fact that wealthy individuals in one jurisdiction can affect the results in another with their great wealth.

  22. Remember, the NYT is the outfit that asked, two years ago and in apparent seriousness, “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” (http://bit.ly/Sku4QX)

    In view of how easy it is, in cases such as the one that provoked this post, to ascertain that certain “facts” asserted by “newsmakers” are blatantly false, I don’t think it’s cynical to surmise that something less innocent than laziness is operative here. Presumably, the problem with pointing out that said “facts” are blatantly false is that it’s deeply offensive to said “newsmakers” and their fans, which is considered hazardous to the careers and businesses of the offending reporters and publications. At a minimum, an offending reporter is apt to lose his or her all-important “access” to “newsmakers”. The horror! Why, a reporter without “access” to “newsmakers” is hardly better than a common blogger. On top of that, there’s the risk of enraging subscribers. In today’s world of declining readership – or at least a declining number of people willing and able to pay for a year’s supply of the NYT and its ilk – every subscriber is precious. And many of them are, to put it bluntly, old and cantankerous. They’re affluent, yes, but they expect value for money, namely to be reassured that the world works as they imagine it does and they themselves are the Wise and Virtuous. Demonstrating that “newsmakers” they support are ignorant, mendacious, or insane doesn’t endear a publication to them.

    You’ve written of “[t]he upscale, high-information readers the Times wants to charge more money to,” but I think it’s important to note that upscale by no means implies high-information. For example, anyone who treated the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, that perennial favorite of the wealthy, as investment advice during the past five years has lost money, skyrocketing inflation and interest rates having conspicuously – and, to well informed people, predictably – failed to materialize. There’s plenty of money to be made from upscale, low-information readers, but one must display a decent respect for the characteristic delusions of their tribe.

  23. Brian Gulino says:

    As a question of style, I think the NYT and other papers should not simply brand a statement as false. Saying its false is just calling names. More appropriate to cite objective evidence to the contrary. In the case of “cheating is rife”, you are immediately faced with the problem of proving a negative. Cheating may be rife and the Democrats have successfully concealed it. It is fair to cite people who have looked into this and found no cheating, then let people decide on their own. In your post, you have done both, branded the statement as false, and cited authority as to why it is false. I contend that its important to always cite the authority.

  24. Richard Aubrey says:

    If you’re going to do more than he/she, you have to do a lot more reporting, which is to say use up column inches. And time. And make certain definitions clear. And money.
    For example, what is “rife”? What percentage deserves that descriptor? Does it matter if a particular election is close that the “rife” was slightly larger than the margin? Slightly smaller?
    Franken lost his election until a number of extra votes were found, amounting to less than four hundred. Turns out 1100 felons voted. Is that “rife”? Does it matter?
    Certain urban precincts went 100% for Obama, a better result than Saddaam got in his last try at legitimacy, and some of those precincts turned out over 100% of their voters. Is that “rife”? Is that important? If it doesn’t turn an election, is it important?
    If, for example, somebody says, “People in west Texas might live 150 miles from the nearest secretary of state,” implying that asking them to get an ID, presuming they don’t have a drivers license, is an unsupportable burden, is it good journalism to mention they might have to go that far to see a dentist and they can do TWO THINGS on that trip?
    So you can see that, in this case, fleshing out the he/she would amount to a small book and somebody would have to, in effect, take sides when defining “rife” before they got to anything else.
    So, yeah, he/she is a problem, but insisting the NYT explain all the ways the republicans are wrong on this in order to be good journos is not practical. Not enough column inches.

  25. Jozef Imrich says:

    It looks like the First Look Media will assist good journalists to achieve the objective of more column inches:
    https://firstlook.org/2014/05/20/grants/

    CODA: the Wire highlights how crypto parties, which feature tutorials on hard drive encryption and how-tos on using the Internet anonymously, brought Australian activist Asher Wolf and Snowden together:
    http://www.wired.com/2014/05/snowden-cryptoparty/