Last night I was going to put up a post regarding the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. But after watching the latest news, I decided I needed to hold back. Once again, some items that have been reported as fact have turned out not to be true, and that has happened enough over the past six days that I want to carefully retread the ground already covered.
“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That is an axiom very familiar to journalists, but it is important for we the people to also check it out: to examine what the media publishes with a gimlet eye. The reporting on this story provides a valuable object lesson in the need to be skeptical and apply logic and critical thinking skills to media reports. We tend to believe the “facts” based on the reputation of the media source publishing them, but in the fog of ratings wars and a fast-moving story, often reporters will just get the facts “roughly right” in order to quickly shoot out the report.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the reporters were wrong, though; it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that authorities are either not releasing information or deliberately releasing not-quite-accurate information in order to see what effect it has on any communications “chatter” that they may be monitoring.
Erroneous inferences drawn from the facts are also problematic, because they’re often Continue reading
In a promoted tweet today, Al Jazeera America asked “Shouldn’t news just give the facts?”
The problem is with that word “just”. It implies a pure, no-additives-here neutral objectivity. Real news, untainted by bias. It reduces the news organization to “just” a fact-checker and news reader. But given limited time and resources, choices must be made: which news items will be aired? Which facts will be presented? What to leave in, what to leave out…those are editorial judgments.
Those choices are increasingly perceived to be driven in some news organizations by ratings or ideology, rather than the public interest. In a 2010 opinion published by the Washington Post, Ted Koppel decried the death of real news, calling cable news biased and calling for a return to facts:
We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.
What we really need in our search for truth is a commodity that used to be at the heart of good journalism: facts – along with a willingness to present those facts without fear or favor.
Actually, the op-ed piece was more about Koppel’s slightly bitter opinion that news organizations had transitioned “from a public service to a profitable commodity”, and that “company bean-counters” trimmed, cut, and eliminated Continue reading