A few months ago, I read an aticle in the Huffington Post about “he said – she said” journalism. I intended to blog about it, but got distracted with moving and various other crises. I can’t find the article – I tried as much as my tired brain would allow – but I’ll do my best to sum it up for you.
“He said, she said” journalism is, in a nutshell, presenting both sides (usually liberal and conservative) or a particular issue without repudiation or mentioning the facts of the situation. It is far more prevalent in modern journalism than it used to be, and there is, according to the article, a number of reasons for it: a desire by corporate news organizations not to offend anyone by pointing out their fallacies or appearing to support one viewpoint ver another, even if the facts are in support of one position and completely invalidate the other. News divisions of a company not wanting to hinder or conflict with other departments of the same parent company. Wanting to appear fair and give equal time to opposing viewpoints leaves little room for truth. Restrictive news budgets don’t have the funds for investigative journalism. Modern mainstream media journalists have no balls. (Okay, I made that last one up.)
Think I’m wrong? Pay close attention to the news that you read online (who reads papers anymore?) or what you hear on TV. I promise you, you will hear more “this person says that, but this person says this” than you will any actual facts. Though the writer of the article took some comfort in their observation that the trend appears to be waning, as near as I could tell it was still going strong, with little sign of abating.
With the recent passing of Walter Cronkite, this article came to my mind again, and still I didn’t blog about it.
What finally got my Irish up (no mean feat, considering my Caucasian ancestry is actually German) was an article in today’s New York Times.
As I said, I am still paying attention to the health care debate, still reading about it as much as my brain will allow, even though I have avoiding blogging about it. This article on the health care debate, henceforth referred to as Exhibit A, is a fair example of what’s wrong with journalism and journalists today.
The article is about poll numbers reflecting growing unease about health care reform among Americans, due to the claims of opposed legislators and millions spent on negative advertising about reform from both the private insurance industries and the Republican National Committee. It also includes quotes from President Obama about what the reform he seeks will and and will not do, as he travels the country trying to refute the claims of the opposition. The article does great in presenting the facts of the poll, but what’s missing?
There are claims about the reform bills made by Obama and by people who answered some follow-up questions to the poll, an Iowa woman in particular. What’s missing here is whether or not these claims, from either side, bear any truth to them. The quotes and concerns from those who answered the follow-up questions make it obvious to anyone who’s been following the bill that their concerns are coming from opposition advertising and Republican (and Blue Dog Democrat) talking points about the bills.
Anyone who’s put in a little research on the health care reform bill knows that the grand majority of the claims made by those in opposition to the bill are false. Two examples:
Claim: “The advertisements present the overhaul as a risky experiment, or a government takeover of health care that would prevent people from choosing their own doctors.”
Truth: Well, that’s technically true. The advertisements do make that claim. But the genuine fact is that the health care reform bill would in no way dictate what doctors patients can or cannot see, much unlike, say, private insurance companies. But did the NYT make mention of that fact in its article? Nope. It just repeated the propaganda with no clarification, refutation, or even a mild comparison to the objective truth.
Claim: “We will pay more taxes.”
Truth: Health care reform will actually save us more money in the long run, because hospitals won’t have to adjust their fees for covering the uninsured and those unable to pay, thereby lowering the amount they charge us as individuals and what they charge the insurance companies. Unless you make more than $250,000 a year, which the overwhelming majority of Americans do not, you will not have to pay any new taxes. Those that do make that much money will face a 1% increase in their taxes. No frilly new uniforms for the Guatemalan maid this year.
And one example of truth slipping into the article by mistake:
Claim: “If we do nothing, I can almost guarantee you your premiums will double over the next 10 years, because that’s what they did over the last 10 years,” Mr. Obama said. “It will eat into the possibility of you getting a raise on your job because your employer is going to be looking and saying, ‘I can’t afford to give you a raise because my health care costs just went up 10, 20, 30 percent.’ ”
Truth: Yeah, that’s actually true. If I recall correctly, insurance premiums double in the past ten years, while wages went up about 20%. But, it’s the truth presented in a quote by Obama, without support from the NYT”s resarch department. Basically, it’s fact being presented as propaganda.
There’s more, but it’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m tired.
Just remember, this is not the Podunk, Alabama Trailer Park Post presenting propaganda on both sides without clarification or facts, this is the New York fucking Times! The Old Grey Lady! “All the news that’s fit to print,” and this bullshit spin regurgitation is the fucking best that they can do? Are you fucking serious? Did they fire the fact checking department? If it wasn’t for Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, plus the occasional Bono editorial, I swear I’d cancel my (online) subscription. When did the Grey Lady lose the ovarian fortitude required to call people on their bullshit? And how can she get it back?
I wish Spider Jerusalem was real. Until that happens, or until Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are brought back from the dead (which would be the first thing I’d do as a mad scientist), Jon Stewart will have to do.
I do like journalism, and have often considered working in the field. But I couldn’t do the “he said – she said” stuff. I’m too honest to repeat someone else’s bullshit without fact-checking it first and calling them on it if they’re wrong. This journalistic style, as Jon Stewart would put it, is “hurting America.” (Google his now-famous appearance on CNN’s Crossfire. It’s journalistic gold.)
So this is my message to the mainstream media: Shut the fuck up with the bullshit spin and propaganda, and really talk to me, give me some facts, let me make an informed decision based on the truth instead of two different angles of spin.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Pay attention to your news, whatever your source(s) may be; see how much of what you get is repeated spin and how much is actual fact.
(And thanks to my friend Christine for unwittingly contributing the title.)
VS – 7.30.09