Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Minimum Standards

Politics notwithstanding, wouldn't you think that writing an article about something that hasn't happened at would violate minimum standards of professionalism? And yet, every few months, we get one of these. In fact, I might be wrong, but this doesn't seem like the first time we've gotten one of these "time machine missives" from Ms. Loven her own self.

I read many years ago that journalists make up the story first, then go out to collect the facts to support it, and I thought to myself, "Self, that's a colorful exaggeration. I'm sure it's bad, but surely it's not that bad. Surely!"

How naive I was. Sometimes, they don't even bother to collect supporting facts.


  1. "Fake but accurate" seems to be the standard.

  2. Old-time reporters had no "standards of professionalism." Their goal was to write the story in a way that would sell papers. Modern J-school grads are just the same, but they have an education and a degree, so they can wrap themselves in a cloak of credentialism. Remember this?

    Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace Agree: Reporters First, Americans Second

    In a future war involving U.S. soldiers what would a TV reporter do if he learned the enemy troops with which he was traveling were about to launch a surprise attack on an American unit? That's just the question Harvard University professor Charles Ogletree Jr, as moderator of PBS' Ethics in America series, posed to ABC anchor Peter Jennings and 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace. Both agreed getting ambush footage for the evening news would come before warning the U.S. troops.

    For the March 7 installment on battlefield ethics Ogletree set up a theoretical war between the North Kosanese and the U.S.-supported South Kosanese. At first Jennings responded: "If I was with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans."

    Wallace countered that other reporters, including himself, "would regard it simply as another story that they are there to cover." Jennings' position bewildered Wallace: "I'm a little bit of a loss to understand why, because you are an American, you would not have covered that story."

    "Don't you have a higher duty as an American citizen to do all you can to save the lives of soldiers rather than this journalistic ethic of reporting fact?" Ogletree asked. Without hesitating Wallace responded: "No, you don't have higher duty...you're a reporter." This convinces Jennings, who concedes, "I think he's right too, I chickened out."

    Well, this got away from Laphamization, the writing of the story before the event has actually transpired; but, y'know, anything to knock these panjandrums of the media down from their self-appointed high places.

  3. One more thing: Have you, personally, ever seen something in the paper of which you had personal knowledge? Did the reporter ever get it right?

    My answers: Yes, No.

    So why would other stories, about which you had no personal knowledge, would be any more accurate?

    Epistemology is tricky enough without having newspapers getting into it.

  4. Hector--

    In fact, I wrote that very thing--if not here, then over at Althouse, at least once: I've never read anything in a newspaper I had any knowledge of that was not flat-out wrong or at least misleading in a significant fashion.

    What the old timers had on Jennings and Wallace is that they were Americans and proud of it. So at least you knew their spin. Not sure about Jennings but I suspect Wallace is more anti-American than neutral.

    I blame virtually every problem we have on them. It may seem extreme, but they have so much power and so misuse it.


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