I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
That’s silly enough on its face, but the straw men erected throughout the piece are actually much worse:
As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?
If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:
“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”
You could, in fact, just stop after that first sentence, and yes, it would be a reasonable expectation. Basically, when a candidate or anyone else in any position of power says anything that is demonstrably bullshit, your job is to demonstrate that it is bullshit. Not by yelling BULLSHIT, but by laying out the facts in contradiction to the assertion. Here on the Internet we can use the word bullshit, but you can use something along the lines of, “the candidate’s actions were contradicted by X, Y and Z, and also by reality.”
This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.
WHAT THE FUCK ELSE ARE YOU THERE FOR? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to yell, but if you’re not there to sort out the nonsense from the rest of the information it is time to start earning the oxygen you consume and go work in a toll booth or teach ballroom dance or undertake some other fundamentally helpful function in society. If you are not there to find things out and tell everybody, you are wasting space at a desk that someone who has not been beaten into complacency could occupy.
The editor goes on to delineate practical considerations that basically boil down to, “everybody talks so much shit all the time that fact-checking everything would make stories unwieldy and the newspaper 500 pages long every day.” To which I say, then stop covering people who lie to you all the time, the way you don’t cover moon landing denialists and flat-earth conspirators. Eventually even the dumbest Republican presidential candidate will come around to the idea that if they want to get a story in the paper they’d better start pitching in the same stadium as reality’s strike zone.
But don’t act like it’s all just beyond you. Do your fucking job. I have ZERO patience for this IT’S JUST SO HARD MOMMY crap. This is the definition of vigilantism:
Look, nobody is ever going to come along and give you permission to uncover their deceptions and their fears. Nobody’s ever going to say it’s okay and yes, in fact, it is your job to make them miserable by revealing that everything they think is fine in life is actually rotting through the floorboards. Nobody’s ever going to love you or thank you for stripping away all their pretty fictions.
But they are going to be better, the way we all get better when we look our lives full in the face and decide what we’re going to live with and what we’re going to change. They are going to be smarter and stronger and braver, once you’ve called a lie a lie.
So to answer the question posed in that bludgeon of a headline, YES, I do expect the Times to be a “truth vigilante.” I do think it is the Times’ job (and the job of every media outlet, and every person on the planet by the way) to take matters into its own hands and determine what is right and what is wrong. I don’t know who ever gave anybody the idea otherwise. What else are we DOING here? What else is the point?
Most writers figure this out by the time they get to be working at a grown-up shop. I don’t know what on earth is holding Brisbane back.