Both sides do it!
September 15, 2016 6:49 PM   Subscribe

To anyone who has avoided the debate over “false balance,” apologies for disturbing your bliss. But it’s necessary, because those who haven’t heard this phrase are missing out on one of the more consequential debates to engage the media in years.

Liz Spaid for NYT: The problem with false balance doctrine is that it masquerades as rational thinking. What the critics really want is for journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.

Liz Spaid in 2012: Should The Times Be A Truth Vigilante?

NPR: We want everyone to listen to us and read us. We want our reporting to reach as many people as possible. It is a well-established piece of social science research that if you start out with an angry tone and say something a listener disagrees with, they will tune out the facts. But if you present the facts calmly and without a tone of editorializing you substantially increase the chance that people will hear you out and weigh the facts. That is why the tone of journalism matters so much. We need potential listeners and readers to believe we are presenting the facts honestly, and not to confirm our opinions.

NPR in 2012 (Ethics Handbook): At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly. (Mefi post here)

Responses:

Josh Marshall: What this debate all comes down to is that the imperative for balance and the imperative for accuracy and completeness, clarifying and explaining what's true and what's not are inevitably in tension. Precisely how it's solved or how that tension is dealt with is a very good debate to be having. (I would suggest the goal is not balance but fairness, fundamental honesty with readers and a constant effort to interrogate one's own biases.) But not to recognize the tension and not to see how some candidates push that tension to the point of crisis simply shows you're in denial or have a monumental lack of self-awareness about the journalistic craft.

Jonathan Chait: Weisberg is partisan, ergo his concept that two candidates can be radically different is also partisan and therefore wrong. (Weisberg, a writer who has written critically about the Democrats innumerable times over his career, is an especially bad case for Spayd.) This exact form of reasoning is what caused so much of the news media to miss the asymmetric transformation of the Republican Party over the last quarter-century. To recognize this development is to record an analysis that “sounds like a partisan’s explanation,” and any partisan analysis by definition cannot be a “factual judgment.” No possible evidence of a difference between the parties can persuade her, because she automatically dismisses such evidence as partisan. Spayd’s column “refuting” the false-equivalency problem happens to be a perfect demonstration of it.

The Nation: How False Equivalence is Distorting the 2016 Election
These pathologies have long been with us. But they have reached a crisis point in recent years, as conservatives have grown ever more brazen in exploiting them, successfully shifting the boundaries of political discourse well beyond what the rest of us recognize as readily observable reality.

CJR: Rethinking Objectivity (2003)
Ask ten journalists what objectivity means and you’ll get ten different answers. Some, like The Washington Post’s editor, Leonard Downie, define it so strictly that they refuse to vote lest they be forced to take sides. My favorite definition was from Michael Bugeja, who teaches journalism at Iowa State: “Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were.” In 1996 the Society of Professional Journalists acknowledged this dilemma and dropped “objectivity” from its ethics code. It also changed “the truth” to simply “truth.”

As E.J. Dionne wrote in his 1996 book, They Only Look Dead, the press operates under a number of conflicting diktats: be neutral yet investigative; be disengaged but have an impact; be fair-minded but have an edge. Therein lies the nut of our tortured relationship with objectivity. Few would argue that complete objectivity is possible, yet we bristle when someone suggests we aren’t being objective — or fair, or balanced — as if everyone agrees on what they all mean.


NYT (2012): He Said, She Said, and the Truth

Jay Rosen (2009): He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User

John Walcott (2009)
This is a topic that deserves more attention, along with beat-sweeteners, access journalism (an oxymoron) and other afflictions of modern life. Here, FWIW, is my little contribution to the discussion, from the I.F. Stone Medal ceremony last fall:

"Relying on The Times, or McClatchy or any other news source, for the truth is dumb, but it's infinitely preferable to the pernicious philosophical notions that there is no such thing as truth, that truth is relative, or that, as some journalists seem to believe, that it can be found midway between the two opposing poles of any argument.

". . . Does the truth lie halfway between say, slavery and abolition, or between segregation and civil rights, or between communism and democracy? If you quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Winston Churchill, in other words, must you then give equal time and credence to Hitler and Joseph Goebbels? If you write an article that's critical of John McCain, are you then obligated to devote an identical number of words to some criticism of Barack Obama, and vice versa?

"The idea that truth is merely a social construct, that it's subjective, in other words, first appeared in academia as a corruption of post-modernism, but it’s taken root in our culture without our really realizing it or understanding its implications."


Gallup: Americans' Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee
At some point, networks decided they could just ask questions and the answers would be someone else’s problem...

...as if in your plentiful spare time when you’re not working your two jobs, or watching your screaming kids, why not spend 20 or 30 hours studying the Geneva Conventions? . . . That’s so much easier than asking reporters and moderators to do their fucking jobs.
posted by triggerfinger (126 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
This the new election thread? It's only Thursday tho
posted by hleehowon at 6:51 PM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Spayd can go eat a pile of shit. She takes a legitimate complaint and screams loud and clear "NO BOTH SIDES DO IT! SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE"
posted by Ferreous at 6:53 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Clockzero put it best in one of my favorite comments of all time


"My GP said I have throat cancer, but my astrologer said it's just Mercury's ascendance. The truth is somewhere in the middle. One mechanic said my transmission is blown, another said I need new brakes. The truth must be somewhere in the middle. I can't remember if the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln or Omaha, but the truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.

It is not a reliable principle that median points are inherently more correct or valid, not at all. There's no evidence of this and none that can be produced.

It's a commonly-promulgated principle because it gives the impression of considered impartiality while requiring no actual critical thought. Frankly, it's a very dumb and fallacious idea, and the fact that so many people lazily pass it off as wisdom reflects an inability or unwillingness on their part to engage meaningfully whatsoever with the subject. It's substantially more embarrassing than saying nothing at all about a subject one knows nothing about."
posted by lalochezia at 6:57 PM on September 15, 2016 [155 favorites]


(this is not meant to be a new election thread, I thought this was a big enough topic to deserve its own post and the mods preapproved it)
posted by triggerfinger at 6:58 PM on September 15, 2016 [25 favorites]


Shew. This is a lot to read. Thank you for compiling it--it's something broader about this year's election that I've been thinking about a lot. I'll look forward to enjoying these over lunch tomorrow :/
posted by witchen at 6:58 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've been using the metaphor "It's like if two people were trying to decide where to go to lunch and one said "Burger king" and the other said "I'm going to stab you in the face" the media would say "why not let him stab you in the arm as a compromise"'
posted by Ferreous at 7:00 PM on September 15, 2016 [101 favorites]


What makes this question even more significant from my point of view is that the actual reporting itself in many of these outlets doesn't stray far from the truth, it's more in the framing of the headlines and the questions asked that seems to present the bigger problem. So the problem seems to be more on the editorial side, related, it seems, to "sales" or marketshare or whatnot, than it does the actual work on the subjects being reported.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah, it's absolutely the framing/time spent. The other day the news spent almost all day on clinton's faint, even though there was a clear and easy explanation. By spending the time on it they made it a story more than it was.
posted by Ferreous at 7:03 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


[Yeah, to clarify, this is NOT an election thread, this is a thread about the specific topic of journalistic standards. We'd love it if y'all tried to keep it there, despite the admittedly large temptation. Thanks!]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:03 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


1 + (-1) = 0
posted by cacofonie at 7:06 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hypothesis: journalists want to be fair and unbiased toward both liberal and conservative principles, but when the mainstream representatives of conservatism are as shitty and unprincipled as Trump... well, this doesn't work out well.
posted by Rangi at 7:08 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


The US newsmedia officially became a huge pile of equivocating fuckmulch sometime shortly after Lauer's horrendous fail.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:11 PM on September 15, 2016


Good lord is this article a steaming pile of shit.

Fuck the NYT.
posted by tocts at 7:15 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


The other day on Marketplace Kai Ryssdal reported some bit of Trump nonsense and followed it with "One could say, so I will, that is a lie." I wanted to award him a medal.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:21 PM on September 15, 2016 [63 favorites]


Great post! And something that cuts to the core of what is wrong with journalism, and especially, "entertainment journalism" that is all the more prevalent. Journalists have replaced objectivity with neutrality, and the results are a disaster.

I like Jimmy Dore's take on BSDI: (I'm paraphrasing) "In sports today, the Red Sox and the Tigers played. The Red Sox say they won 5-2, the Tigers say they won 8-0. Who's right? If only there were some way to find out who the winner is. I guess we'll never know. "
posted by zardoz at 7:23 PM on September 15, 2016 [52 favorites]


Well, that was disappointing.
posted by schmod at 7:27 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


The US newsmedia officially became a huge pile of equivocating fuckmulch sometime shortly after Lauer's horrendous fail.

Matt Lauer was simply doing what the media has been doing now for a few decades. It's just never been so visible and obvious. His "moderating" was a visible symptom of a very very deep problem.
posted by zardoz at 7:28 PM on September 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


I am not quite sure when it happened, but it seems that Marketplace, of all shows, has started to grow a bit of a spine, with regard to being spun. Not that it is consistent, but it used to be the Economist of public radio shows - any problem could be fixed with the magic of the free market. Now, not quite so much (although I reserve the right to stab at the car radio in a fit of socialistic apoplexy during that show).

Regarding the NPR articles - well, that certainly didn't work out for them, now did it? They seem to have had an excessive number of he-said, she-said pieces since 2012 (one might say daily) - ones in which a reasonably read person would say about an interviewee, "this person has spouted absolute shit" only to not have them called on it.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 7:29 PM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


Maybe journalism has always been a specialized form of entertainment. Maybe there really was a golden age of Objective Journalism in the distant past. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:36 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is the year that I've quit NPR news. I'll still listen to non-NPR public radio shows like Marketplace or On The Media but Morning Edition and All Things Considered just raise my blood pressure up even higher than it usually is. Their "Democrats said that the earth is round but Republican disagree, who knows what the truth is?" crap just makes me yell at the radio.
posted by octothorpe at 7:37 PM on September 15, 2016 [48 favorites]


There was a video going around Facebook that showed Trump directly contradicting himself and outright lying over and over. There were about 7 or 8 examples but one of the most blatant was when he was asked about David Duke and he said "I don't know who he is", followed by another clip of him saying Duke is a good friend of his.
My point is that Facebook viral videos are doing more investigative journalism than any newspaper or TV news organization. The NYT and their peers should be exposing those lies, and all the many others, and interviewers should be stopping Trump mid-sentence and showing video evidence of the lie he just told. But they're afraid they might appear biased. Cowards.
posted by rocket88 at 7:47 PM on September 15, 2016 [43 favorites]


Ah, fun. The journalistic equivalent of declaring that you have a 50% chance of winning the Powerball, because there are only two outcomes: you either win or you don't.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:52 PM on September 15, 2016 [24 favorites]


Matt Lauer was simply doing what the media has been doing now for a few decades. It's just never been so visible and obvious. His "moderating" was a visible symptom of a very very deep problem.


Right, but that was its Skynet moment.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:00 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've been using the metaphor "It's like if two people were trying to decide where to go to lunch and one said "Burger king" and the other said "I'm going to stab you in the face"

The thing about that metaphor is that you need better friends.
posted by lollusc at 8:04 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


(Also, it's technically not a metaphor).
posted by lollusc at 8:04 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


After NPR fired Juan Williams in 2010 for being a fuckstick, they got a huge backlash from the right including lawmakers making noise about pulling any taxpayer funding they get. That's when their "both sides are valid" thing got very noticeable.

They need a Cecile Richards type at the top, someone with a real backbone and commitment to the mission who won't blink in the face of threats.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:06 PM on September 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


The arrogance of this article is amazing. It reminds me of the arrogance of Lionel Shriver's speech covered earlier this week on MeFi.

When this country is in the grip of full-blown fascists, these people will somehow still be enjoying a comfortable life in a tony neighborhood of NYC, and will still be lecturing us on how it's anyone's fault but theirs.
posted by selfnoise at 8:08 PM on September 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


FYI, the author of that 2012 “truth vigilantes” piece isn’t Liz Spayd, but former public editor Arthur Brisbane. Lest you start to think all NYT public editors are alike, in between there was the excellent Margaret Sullivan, who argued gamely against the cult of “he said, she said” reporting and in favor of telling the truth. She has since moved on to the Washington Post. I miss her lots.
posted by lurkfirst at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


In fact, reporting by The Times and others has turned up so many potential conflicts that the foundation decided to stop accepting foreign government funding if Clinton becomes president.

Uhh, so she's arguing potential conflicts are more damning than actual evidence of attempting to bribe elected officials? See, this is why people are shouting at you, Spayd.

Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope.

IT'S A SLIPPERY SLOPE PEOPLE

Of course the Times editorial staff is totally rational and reports on just the facts ma'am, we don't let any of our own internal biases or need to increase circulation influence what we cover and how much, no way no how, we're totally rational and wouldn't want to start slipping down that slope
posted by Existential Dread at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


She has since moved on to the Washington Post

That explains a lot.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


I do wonder if the Times' obsession with the Clinton foundation stems from a need to differentiate themselves from their competitors at WaPo. They see WaPo going hard after Trump, so they decide that they need to do the same for Clinton in order to drum up page views/circulation.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:21 PM on September 15, 2016


I wonder if it's partly driven by having reporters on the Clinton beat and reporters on the Trump beat. Ideally you want those reporters to be somewhat critical of the candidates they're covering but when Trump insults 4 people and tells 6 lies before breakfast and Clinton just gives a good speech about expanding child care for working parents that repeats a lot of what she's said before, the reporters charged with covering Clinton with a critical eye are left repeating, "Well, I guess some people are still saying they think there was the appearance of conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation."

But then you put that article next to one about Trump bribing the prosecutors who were investigating Trump University, and there's no sense of proportion. It just looks like: Clinton Did A Bad Thing. Trump Did A Bad Thing.
posted by straight at 8:38 PM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


From earlier this summer, Pressthink: Getting granular with NPR's culture of timidity.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:38 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


From earlier this summer, Pressthink: Getting granular with NPR's culture of timidity.

Ugh. Rosen's complete, belabored, and embarrassingly triumphant misunderstanding in that article of the way Sarah McCammon was using the term "lower threshold" was really painful to read. ("Remember those words: 'lower threshhold' -- I'm about to make a fool of myself misunderstanding them at length for several paragraphs.")
posted by straight at 8:54 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do wonder if the Times' obsession with the Clinton foundation stems from a need to differentiate themselves from their competitors at WaPo.
...or to fall right in line with their local competitors at the Wall Street Journal and New York Post. (You want Trump-skeptical coverage? Apparently the New York Daily News comes closest)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:56 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


False equivalence in the news media is non-trivial contributor to the breaking of people's bullshit detectors. When issues are framed as she said/he said, with very limited context and little fact corroboration by news eporters, people drowned in information. Not helpful that some journalists don't think that being a "truth squad" is part of a journalist's responsibilities.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 9:00 PM on September 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Jesus, that Spaid piece. I could go on about this topic for a while and I shouldn't exempt NPR from criticism, but I can't get past that thing, which essentially argues that all the criticism is irrational and it'd be OK if they judged each story on its merits but its just whiny partisans. In point of fact a great many people have explained why they think their coverage of (say) the Clinton foundation is bad on the merits, in great detail. The "false equivalence" complaint is an attempt to diagnose the cause of the bad coverage, not the substance of the complaint.

So what Josh Marshall says, basically.

Bonus Josh Marshall tweet.
posted by mark k at 9:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


My blood pressure shoots through the roof every time I hear the Diane rhem show. It might be the worst offender on NPR for letting people call in, say racist bullshit, and then have the host say "the caller makes a good point, GOP operative talk about how good of a point they had!"
posted by Ferreous at 9:12 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I've long believed that one of the strange national strengths of the US as a world power is the deep seated sense of complacency or even apathy about politics. Most citizens aren't that well informed about most of the complicated issues facing the country, and don't feel the need to be because they have a odd trust/hate relationship with government. They don't trust the individuals involved, but they seem to inherently believe in the stability of the system itself. So they grimace at being asked to change, but when change comes they may gripe but as long as things keep flowing in the same direction, as a country, they more or less accept the change and move on rather than doing anything that might but their individual comforts at risk.

To be sure, that doesn't mean all groups have been complacent all the time, or that many of the laws and acts of the government have been equally and fairly enacted within the country, but only that as a comparative view of national strength, the US has benefited by a rather astounding level of stability precisely because the majority just don't want things fucked around with too much. The US is, in that view it seems, fundamentally and unshakably stable. Disagreements arise and are, eventually, settled, presidents and congresses come and go almost without notice due to the system itself being seen as so rock solid that concern over details is unnecessary to large extent. I mean so many events here could have led to wide spread revolt, riot, or systemic upheaval but have caused barely a ripple of action among the majority here; for example, just think of how Bush v. Gore could have gone if more people actually gave a damn.

This election though may put that premise at risk and the way it is covered, along with all the accumulation of complacent reporting soothing the national psyche, could lead to a catastrophic systemic shock if things don't change. Even if Trump loses, the lessons of this election and the reporting on it need to be addressed or the steady growing abuse of the truth and failure to address it compellingly could and likely will lead to disaster in the near future. (If it hasn't already happened with things like climate change.)

The news media places an undue trust on the its audience to parse the facts, to understand lies or misrepresentation when it is presented to them. They seem to believe that simply reporting what someone says will be evidence enough that they are or are not acting in the nation's best interest. In essence, they write as if they are their own audience, in a way, where information is expected to be processed in the same way by everyone with roughly the same basic formative background to any reported claims.

It's informational genericism where words and how we each process them are treated as fundamentally stable, just like the system of government. News outlets ape the electorate by being as complacent in their positions as the majority are in their lives. Competition is the accepted method of interaction; the fundamental basis of life in the US. It's nothing personal, of course, just what you do to get by. So as long as you stick to some basic rules on accuracy, whatever it takes to get page views is what matters and the rest will take care of itself. That's capitalism after all.

This, obviously, leaves out "news' outlets like Fox and all the new more vaguely defined internet information sources, which are a major factor in both why the complacent model no longer works well, and why ratings and page views are sought in the fashion they are. It's been widely reported that the old model of the news business is outmoded and something needs to change for major media outlets. This is undoubtedly true, but it seems that worry about that demand may only be hastening their useful end. It's a frightening prospect since without shared believable sources of information we only increase the risk of fragmentation. If the fourth estate doesn't fight for the importance of their own place in a functioning democracy instead of putting most of their efforts into grubbing for a larger share of capital than they will cease to matter as figures of national utility. That there will still be people out there actually working to present the truth as best they can is heartening, but that some are counting on this as a way to further their own agendas should worry everyone who hopes for a more just and equitable future.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:16 PM on September 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


I do wonder if the Times' obsession with the Clinton foundation stems from a need to differentiate themselves from their competitors at WaPo.

I think their obsession with the Clinton Foundation stems from their obsession with the Clintons, which goes waaay back.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:24 PM on September 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


Any publication that would hire and continue to employ Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman is not to be trusted with the truth. Let's remember above all that the New York Times is a business, and a certain degree of ass-covering is inherent in the running of any such enterprise. This article is pungently redolent of that activity, and reminds me why I haven't trusted the NYT since the war in El Salvador.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 9:41 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Man, there is so much Meta here! A post like this is why I can ignore the daily SLYT & keep coming back to MetaFilter.
Thanks triggerfinger- It captures much of my thoughts in one post!
(can i give Rep on this site?)
posted by TDIpod at 9:48 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem is they are selling newspapers &c. and only half the customers are in the Reality Based Community. Michael Jordan famously said Republicans buy sneakers. The Fantasy Based Community buys newspapers. It's just business.
posted by bukvich at 9:48 PM on September 15, 2016


This election though may put that premise at risk

The GOP dominance of 1995-2006 gave us multi-trillion-dollar mideast wars, a great leveraging up of our collective debt and the ensuing blow-up of all that in 2008-2009.

This country is not going to survive (as it is) with another turn of them at the wheel. I'm not entirely sure they didn't actually kill this country as a going concern then and we just don't know it, yet . . .

http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/international/intinv/intinvnewsrelease.htm
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:50 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Someone- WikiLeaks or someone else- has the NYT over a barrel. It's the only plausible reason I can think of for their lack of reporting on Bondi, and their general cowardliness throughout this election. Articles like this one trying to rationalize inept journalism fill me with white hot rage.
posted by simra at 9:56 PM on September 15, 2016


I do wonder if the Times' obsession with the Clinton foundation stems from a need to differentiate themselves from their competitors at WaPo.

I just realized -- the The NY Times thinks "being tough on the Clintons" is a penance/remedy for being credulous of Judith Miller.

Like: back in the day JM was "the left," but she wasn't far left enough and she screwed up and look at what happened. The Times sure won't let that happen again!
posted by pocketfullofrye at 9:57 PM on September 15, 2016


Weisberg used an analogy, saying journalists are accustomed to covering candidates who may be apples and oranges, but at least are still both fruits. In Trump, he said, we have not fruit but rancid meat. That sounds like a partisan’s explanation passed off as a factual judgment.
No, it doesn't. It sounds like a metaphor designed to illustrate that comparing Trump to Clinton is a category error.
posted by klanawa at 10:00 PM on September 15, 2016 [23 favorites]


Lots of folks who believe themselves critical of both-siderism still run afoul of it, though.

The basic idea for journalism is that we are all filled with bias, partisanship, habit, and taste, and that these things should be put aside in favor of granting attention to political ideas in rough proportion to their current popularity. That's objectivity. The tension is that there are some things that are clearly beyond this, where our beliefs may have biased origins, but are also objectively true -- eg, climate change, or more simply, when Trump says exactly the opposite of what he said a day earlier. That self-contradiction is just true, at a brute mathematical level. It's hard to treat a judgment of that as bias, partisanship, habit or taste when it's so clearly objectively true. And Trump has many, many of these things, making it hard to retain the relativistic mindset towards one's own beliefs. The alternative is just to call a lie a lie and be done with it.

But that alternative is scary for journalists. Where does it stop? If they judge Ryan's budget (possibly after reading a Krugman takedown) as mathematically flawed -- the numbers don't add up -- are they equally required to call it out? What about Sanders's budget? Or Clinton's? Where is the line between partisanship and taste on the one hand, and our judgments of what is objectively true or false on the other? This would seem to lead down a very slippery slope to full partisanship, where every journalist has an ideological position that they believe is true, and calls out everything that seems false about those to the right and left of themselves. And the usual out -- that you just prefer that spot of out "ideology" (whatever that is) -- doesn't solve it, because we've decided that our ideology is a result of our factual judgments, and not the other way around.

And if you are resisting that formulation, then you are edging back into the relativism we are condemning journalists for. Who am I to judge, they ask? I may believe it to be objectively true or false, but perhaps that's just my own bias talking. And you say no, not for Trump. And they say, if not Trump, then where does it end? Must all leftwing journalism either be pro-Sanders or pro-Clinton, with nothing in the middle or objective? Once one side dismisses Sanders's policies as fairy-dust and the other dismisses Clinton's policies as neoliberal, do we all just go our own ways never to speak again? What does being "open-minded" mean if not to say that we might be wrong and biased, and should listen to the other side simply by merit of the fact that they exist? Or is this somehow, magically, a special case for Trump, and Trump only? Do we only draw the line at "pants on fire" as defined by some anonymous people on a website?

The entire idea of bubbles -- as a bad thing -- depends on this sort of relativism. If you think the other side is totally wrong -- Trump, creationism -- then there's no reason to listen to them at all, and nothing wrong with living in your "bubble." But where does that stop? Should you dismiss all leftwing media too, or if you are leftwing, all the mainstream center-left news as hopelessly misguided? Once you start making these hard judgments, treating your own views as actually objective instead of taking a relativistic stance towards yourself, things get a lot trickier; much easier just to say we should always fight bubbles, listen to the other side, treat our own beliefs with skepticism, etc -- all of which leads directly to standard both-sides journalism.

The alternative world of truth is a dangerous place. We all then have positions we believe to be true, not just our personal (biased, habit-based) preferences. If we are all absolutely certain, no one talks to anyone. But even if we allow for uncertainty -- the usual solution among the rationalist left -- we still have to decide how uncertain we are about each issue, and how far away is so far that it's not even worth listening to. There's probably no way out of this problem, but it's scary. Either you listen to every position in proportion to its popularity, or you start making judgments of what should or shouldn't be treated seriously or at all as a journalist, or listened to as a consumer, and then you are in the scary place where you might cut yourself off from the truth -- in fact, you almost certainly will on some issue at some point -- and if you are a gatekeeper journalist, you might end up cutting off the population from the truth or trashing a position that is true simply because you have mistakenly decided it is false. The stakes are high!

Much safer just to be relativist about the world and yourself, be open-minded, non-judgmental, balanced, listen to the other side, and always give it a fair hearing, even when you feel sure it is wrong.
posted by chortly at 10:10 PM on September 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


It's also worth pointing out that only a few days after writing that contentless screed against the people criticizing the NYT over false balance, Spayd then threw Times reporter Rod Nordland under a bus, for reporting comments made by one of the attendees at a private artists-only event at the Brisbane Writers Festival that he then added to his piece on Lionel Shriver's tone deaf comments on cultural appropriation. Said attendee, Suki Kim, claimed that the conversation was assumed to be off the record (as a journalist, Kim should know that placing a conversation off the record is something that needs to be affirmatively agreed to by both parties.)

Honestly, at this point, the Times needs to dismiss Spayd, because it's clear that she has little understanding of the profession she's ostensibly monitoring.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:40 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Much safer just to be relativist about the world and yourself, be open-minded, non-judgmental, balanced, listen to the other side, and always give it a fair hearing, even when you feel sure it is wrong.

I'm not sure reporting things you are sure are false is actually "safe." It certainly protects your self-image from criticism--if you never decide what is true you can never be wrong--but it doesn't help you or anyone else make good decisions.

There's a big excluded middle in your post. For a journalist choice is not between "don't listen and don't be fair" and "report everything." It is in fact your job to listen and be fair, and then communicate to the reader what is accurate and true. (This is not the same as "ideologically convenient," obviously.) If you get it wrong you haven't done a good job. But you have to do both parts. And no, you won't be perfect, but if you think the whole task is hopeless you are just plain in the wrong profession.
posted by mark k at 10:51 PM on September 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


It is in fact your job to listen and be fair, and then communicate to the reader what is accurate and true.

I personally of course agree with this. But it's difficult or impossible to do without becoming fully ideological, since many of not most judgments about accuracy and truth (at least in the domain of politics, policy, and the news) have an ideological aspect. I'm perfectly happy with every journalist having an identifiable ideological position (that emerges out of their judgments of the truth, and not vice versa), but I think a lot of journalists worry about what happens when the gatekeepers are too judgmental about every item they pass along. Again -- not a problem for me, since in my world, the more judgmental the better. But it's not totally clear where that happy middle is, where you listen to stuff that you think is sort of wrong and report most "reasonable" things with only mild amounts of judgment. We know Trump is not just "sort of wrong," but how we wield the "pants on fire" hammer to things less extreme -- as for instance Krugman does with Sanders, Ryan, and even positions closer to his ideal point -- is tricky, particularly if you're worrying not just about when to call things out, but as Spayd is, with actual issues of covering or ignoring things in a newspaper with finite space. I'm not saying Spayd's solution is right -- it's quite wrong -- I'm just interested in understanding how she and other journalists arrived at their position, and how it's analogous in some ways to the sort of relativistic "open-minded" stances we all take towards our own beliefs, at least relative to things a bit closer and less extreme than Trump.
posted by chortly at 11:26 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm just interested in understanding how she and other journalists arrived at their position, and how it's analogous in some ways to the sort of relativistic "open-minded" stances we all take towards our own beliefs, at least relative to things a bit closer and less extreme than Trump.

IMO, you are beanplating this until the beans are just sauce.

'Fair and balanced' journalism comes from fear. Reporting things people don't want to hear leads to all sorts of negative consequences: sanctions from powerful enemies, (such as lawsuits from the likes of Trump or Peter Thiel), loss of ad revenue, career ending blacklisting, death threats from irate media consumers and so on. We're witnessing an awful lot of bad things happening to people who tell unpopular truths right now. Look at how climate scientists are treated: funding cut, death threats, Congressional hearings, etc. Look at how Katy Tur's been treated. Look at... anything, lately.

By contrast, take a look at the rewards for being a good toady. That lickspittle Matt Lauer has how much money? Dr. Oz has how much money? Etc.

*shrugs*

In our current environment, the press are fucked. They're uniquely qualified to appreciate just *how* fucked, what with how it's their job to look at the world around them. This is not a complicated philosophical debate about 'how do we know our own biases,' this is a toxic work environment.
posted by mordax at 11:41 PM on September 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


So what Josh Marshall says, basically. Bonus Josh Marshall tweet.

That's painful. I don't know why Josh Marshall has so much trouble constructing a search, but if you just go search "Trump Bondi" you'll find "their lack of reporting on Bondi" is illusory.
posted by Miko at 11:42 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sadly, when it comes to climate change responses, Clinton is in what any rational world would categorise as the camp of 'do just barely enough to limit any major political fallout from attacks based on a realistic approach', i. e. where the Repugs should be, while Trump et al are completely and utterly off the planet. True 'balance' is somewhat to the left of the leftmost candidate (though I hate to cast the debate in left right terms).
posted by wilful at 11:56 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


That's painful. I don't know why Josh Marshall has so much trouble constructing a search, but if you just go search "Trump Bondi" you'll find "their lack of reporting on Bondi" is illusory.

Different search, different time AFAICT. You're looking for any reference to Trump & Bondi as of today and the Google algorithm does not actually require your words to show up in the article. Here's a search that gets closer to requiring Trump and Bondi to appear in the same story as of Sept. 4 (time of the tweet) and there's a noted paucity of material about the actual charge in question--a donation to get her off the back of Trump University. There's one off-hand comment in a live blog. Am I missing anything? (Non-rhetorical question, it's late.)

They do dutifully report that Bondi thinks Clinton should be locked up though.
posted by mark k at 12:07 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


[Yeah, to clarify, this is NOT an election thread, this is a thread about the specific topic of journalistic standards. We'd love it if y'all tried to keep it there, despite the admittedly large temptation. Thanks!]

So what you're saying is that it's actually about ethics in journalism?
posted by Dysk at 12:12 AM on September 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


That was an overwrought article, so I may have seriously misunderstood it in some crucial way, but it seems ironic that the author commits a false equivalence in hinting that some liberals accusing the NYTimes of false equivalency is just as bad as some liberals failing to engage with conservatives' worldviews, etc. Also for example, the hypocrisy in this last paragraph:

Fear of false balance is a creeping threat to the role of the media because it encourages journalists to pull back from their responsibility to hold power accountable. All power, not just certain individuals, however vile they might seem.

Read in between the lines, this really just says all power except the NYTimes itself.
posted by polymodus at 12:45 AM on September 16, 2016


The New York Times is just trying to cover up its journalistic failure to publicize the crimes of one of the biggest crooks in the New York Financial Scene... the one who may be the next President.

Judith Miller was no fluke. The NYT has been deeply corrupt for decades.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:04 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I asked Amy Chozick, the lead Clinton reporter and author of several foundation stories, for her view on false balance in The Times’s political coverage.

“I hear a lot from readers concerned about ‘false balance,’” she said, “and while we need to be cautious about falling into that trap, a general election campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump means both candidates’ records, positions and backgrounds should be equally scrutinized and, when appropriate, compared and contrasted.”
[emphasis mine]

The problem is, as I see it, that the compare/contrast thing isn't happening. Each candidate is having their specific reported-upon issues reported upon, but there is no media outlet with any power who is sitting down and doing the work to point out that what this one side did was x, y, z, but the other side did A, B, C, and those things are a fucking much bigger deal. I think they're doing this because to do so would be to truly take a side in the fight and the struggle to appear impartial is overcoming their willingness to do the compare/contrast part of what the NYT lead reporter says should be part of appropriate reporting on these issues.

In fact, the very next two paragraphs from the top article in the FPP are:

This, of course, is not a typical election. Trump is so erratic and his comments so inflammatory that many in his own party have rejected him. But it is also true that these are two presidential candidates with the lowest approval ratings in history. Neither is very trusted or liked. Which means if ever there was a time to shine light in all directions, this is it.

If Trump is unequivocally more flawed than his opponent, that should be plenty evident to the voting public come November. But it should be evident from the kinds of facts that bold and dogged reporting unearths, not from journalists being encouraged to impose their own values to tip the scale.


There is the compare/contrast happening in this scenario? It's not there at all. It's being left up to those consuming the reporting to do the compare/contrast of the scandals contained in both of these candidates actions. And with one candidate having practiced manipulating the public through media (and bragging about it) for decades with the other candidate admitting that political presence on the public stage aren't a strong point, it's obvious who is going to end up coming out ahead in this conflict even if one side is definitely more scandalous than the other.

The only real compare/contrast I've seen in this entire past month was Full Frontal's Samantha Bee in her triumphant return after a hiatus. Just watch this segment entitled DIY Election Coverage. [5m19s] This is what compare/contrast looks like.
posted by hippybear at 1:30 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


hippybear: "Which means if ever there was a time to shine light in all directions, this is it."

I keep worrying that the reason no one really shines this light in any direction is because what they will see in every direction is the abyss.
posted by chavenet at 1:38 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be fair, that isn't my quote. That is a quote from the article.
posted by hippybear at 1:39 AM on September 16, 2016


the fact that Trump might win is driving the "radical center" insane.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:39 AM on September 16, 2016


Bill Clinton gets caught with his hand in poor Monica's cookie jar and Republicans jump up and down and get all frowny and judgmental like it's some huge genocide and the press doesn't stop jerking off about it for years. Everyone was making fistfuls of money, gas was $0.87 a gallon, Clinton left us with a huge cash reserve. Geo W and his criminal co-conspirators tell upwards of seventeen thousand lies to get sleepwalking US citizens agreement on killing between a quarter and a half million Iraqi citizens who'd never lifted a hand against us, torturing whoever they wanted to however and wherever they wanted to torture them, and blowing trillions upon trillions of dollars doing it all. And the press? They're waving yellow ribbons around. The US economy ran up and ran down like a roller coaster, I quite honestly do not know how we didn't bankrupt completely, another 1929 and no FDR in sight.

On the one hand we have a guy with a history of not keeping his dick in his pants. On the other hand we have a host of criminals who lied, committed mass murder in our name, tortured, stole everything that wasn't nailed down, and much of what was.

Who got the worst press?

Now we have Hilary, and we have Trump. Hilary is loathsome but I don't even really think it's her fault -- when she showed up in DC lo those long years gone by she really was a decent human being, but in fighting against what happened to her and Bill she learned the ropes and she learned them too well and in so doing she turned into what she came into DC to fight against. A damned shame, that is.

But while Hilary certainly is disgusting, she is not insane, and Trump clearly is insane, an absolutely loose cannon full of forty-seven distinctly different kinds of shit, a big-mouthed, screeching, howling, mouth-breathing asshat who could on any given day make ol' Geo W look like a goody-goody selling candy door to door to support the high school band.

The sun never sets on the US empire, we have well-trained warriors with an almost unbelievable military capability all over the globe, and Trump could and almost certainly would set them into action on any given day, for any reason, or none at all. He is completely irrational, he is dangerous, he is not married to Bill. Trump is the perfect representation of the collective id of the citizens of the US, driven wildly hither and yon by unchecked instinctual drives. He is, in short, a sick fuck.

And he's not getting called out on it. He's so completely outrageous that it's impossible to keep score, to keep track, to keep up, and no one is, the press is the dog trying to find him and Trump is the tail wagging that dog all over the place, always three or four steps ahead, they're scratching their heads and trying to keep up with the scent but it's moved again and yet again, and they're worn down, these poor mopes are just all worn down, and they turn in a small circle three times, sigh deeply, lie down, and take a nap.

Meanwhile, Hilary's transgressions are in the open, mostly, and though she has them buttoned down they have loose threads, which reporters try to waggle loose until Huma Abedin* steps on their head. Everybody just pretty much hates Hilary, it's a visceral thing, like it was with Nixon, though she's not the criminal that NIxon was. (Not that anyone knows of for sure anyways; everybody just suspects it.) It's crystal clear to anyone with even half a brain that she is the most qualified candidate by far, the safest candidate by far, the sanest candidate by far. She just comes across badly, and for that lack of charm -- which Bill had by the busload, and still does --she is not forgiven.
*In a perfect world, Huma Abedin is our second woman president -- she's damn sure got the chops, she's got the connections, she knows where all the bodies are hidden. She glides around almost unseen but seeing all. Huma Abedin rocks.

Since Carter it's been this way, the press hounding democrats and letting republicans skate. Honestly, I think it's because the press knows that, if they are given any shit, republicans, as a class, would burn down the reporters garage, whilst democrats, as a class, would want to talk it out with some civility, thus they are safe targets. It absolutely has been this way since Carter. I don't see it changing any time soon.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:30 AM on September 16, 2016 [19 favorites]


But while Hilary certainly is disgusting,

Could people please stop saying this unless you have a factual and specific complaint about her? Because seriously as far as I can tell all the Hillary hate is all just marketing and spin. I have not heard one specific complaint that did not turn out to be a lie or overblown exaggeration about something that vast numbers of other politicians do as a matter of course without getting called "disgusting."

So look, I definitely started out believing that stuff, but then I had a moment where I realized I did not know why. And it shook me. It felt really strongly like I was being manipulated. And I still haven't heard a single damn reason to call her "corrupt" or "slimy" or anything else. So if you're going to do that, put up or shut up and cite facts and cite your source. And if your criticism is with the level of money in politics and the influence big donors have, all politicians are a part of that. Even your favorite down with capitalism super liberal politicians are a part of that, so please refrain from personal insults.

I'm really losing patience for what seems to be societal level gullibility.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:11 AM on September 16, 2016 [77 favorites]


We hold these truths to be self- serving evident: all opinions are created equal ...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:43 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Could people please stop saying this unless you have a factual and specific complaint about her? Because seriously as far as I can tell all the Hillary hate is all just marketing and spin. I have not heard one specific complaint that did not turn out to be a lie or overblown exaggeration about something that vast numbers of other politicians do as a matter of course without getting called "disgusting."

but that's the core of the issue: do we know things or just believe we know things? why do people believe what they believe?

there is the fact of the "Clinton foundation", which is a private nonoprofit entity controlled by a very wealthy family, much like other foundations, like the Trump foundation. there is the fact of where the money for Clinton foundation comes from: donations from large corporations and very wealthy individuals of varying citizenship. there is the fact of what the money is spent on... etc. but, the real question is why? why is there a Clinton foundation? what purpose does it serve?

the whole issue of "truth" sidesteps what's really the issue, which is context. one of the things US journalism does a truly terrible job of is putting stories in a context. and "belief" is largely about the context with which you view facts. context is where facts acquire meaning.

Now, what is the context for the Clinton foundation? You can look at in terms of private nonprofit philanthropic foundations. What purpose do they serve? Now, it's a vast world, but I *believe* many of these foundations are a combination of basically a tax dodge with a set of social conveniences for people with larger amounts of wealth to control the family money. The boards often are composed of family members, they usually have murky finances and probably conceal some large of small amount of fraud of various kinds which, for most of them, will never be detected or investigated. There is a whole world of fraud committed by extremely wealthy people that is either barely legal, or blatantly illegal, but which is never dealt with for a variety of reasons. The Trump foundation fits perfectly in this context.

However, the Clinton foundation doesn't. To start with, they really weren't fabulously wealthy, on say, the scale of the Waltons, or what the Trumps aspire to. But, this gets into the real reason for these foundations exist: charitable and other philanthropic activity is a huge social nexus for the extremely wealthy. it's a cliche but true that going to the "charitable ball" is how you meet other wealthy people, network with them, make deals, conceive of frauds, etc. having a charitable foundation is a golden ticket into this world of social connections within the plutocracy.

Now, I would *argue* that the Clintons have leveraged their political connections along with their connections with big business and very rich people to build a thriving family business in influence peddling. The fact of it is that most of their personal income and personal wealth has come from "speaking fees" for giving 30 minute speeches to various groups of wealthy people. The question has always been *why* wealthy people have been willing to pay $300K for a speech? But, if you want really rich people to give you money, it really helps to put yourself in a social context where you can meet them.

My point here is that my belief that the Clintons are engaged in "influence peddling" is based on the context of how I understand "plutocracy" to function, my knowledge of charitable foundations and beliefs thereof, etc. The "facts", strictly constructed, don't say anything other than 'they have a foundation' or 'their personal income comes from speaking fees'.

It's perfectly possible to think that extremely rich people aren't, basically, sinister. Especially if you happen to be extremely rich or hang out with the extremely rich. But if you *believe* they are sinister and their activities nefarious, it changes your view of private charitable foundations. And, at it's core, this is a belief. You can't "prove" or "disprove" that very rich people are sinister.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:04 AM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


How panicked about Clinton's defeat do you have to be to find the Times's coverage to be not anti-Trump enough? There are days it seems that they struggle to find room on the political/election front page for any story that isn't anti-Trump.

If anything, the Times' effort to stay, even slightly, away from the Post's decision to simply become an annex to the Clinton press shop will preserve its credibility to sell some bombshell Trump revelation. There is simply no scoop the Post could have at this point that any Trump or undecided voter would take seriously for a moment.
posted by MattD at 5:40 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


There is more than one form of false equivalence reporting. The "both sides do it" piece is reprehensible, since it seeks out a false equivalence and presents it in a XXX light.

What's more problematic for the media, I think, is when a candidate lies outright or gives misleading information. It leads to a bind, in that organizations like Politifact are now considered by many on the right as being liberal rather than unbiased because they baldly state "Trump is lying". Unless you're a propaganda outlet like Fox and don't care about your image, calling people out gives the appearance of bias.

I think there are solutions to this, but it requires hard work and a change in format. It's not going to fit in the 120-second, we asked three questions type of snapshot you tend to get on radio and TV.

One solution is to continue to ask followups that show the false information for what it is. This requires very informed and persistent reporters. Unfortunately, not everyone is a Rachel Maddow.

The other solution (which has been used very effectively by the comedy shows -- Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee) is to use media itself to show the lies, for example, playing clips of the candidate saying two opposite things, or showing the "real" information that the interviewee has distorted.

That requires committing to more post-production. You have to be willing to say, i'm not going to just put the candidate's words out there, I'm going to edit in some context afterwards. Again, that requires changes in how the news programs operate. They can't just get raw video, clip it down to size, and throw it on the air. But it can be done.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:48 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem with the "speaking fees are influence peddling" hypothesis is that it's easily disproven, because people with no remaining influence still command very large speaking fees. If speaking fees bought influence, you would expect people to earn fees in some rough proportion to their ability to influence governmental outcomes. Instead, fees appear to be proportional to how much people want to see someone speak.

Consider Sarah Palin, for example. In 2011, when she was completely washed up, she could still get $100,000 a speech. She's clearly not going anywhere. Did anyone think having the ear of Sarah Palin in 2011 was going to get them anything other than some moose jerky or a cameo on The Discovery Channel?

Glenn Beck earned $3M in speaking fees in 2009, even though he was pretty busy with other stuff at the time. Is Glenn Beck doing secret backroom deals I don't know about? What levers of power does he control from the shadows?

The other fact is that filling a room with 400 people who want to pay $500 each to be in the presence of a famous person is just not that hard. It's the market rate. People will pay this fee just to say they were there, learn some interesting stuff, and network with other people who are interested in doing the same. A relative of mine runs an organization that does only this -- charge people membership and tickets for speeches from lower-tier speakers (people with 5-figure speaking fees, not 6) and it's been running for 50 years. There are hundreds of these kinds of organizations around the country.

And if you wanted to get money into someone's pocket in exchange for them not doing a lot of work, there are a lot of easier ways to get them money in indirect ways. Board memberships, for example, often are literally just paying someone for the right to put their name on your website. Al Gore cashed in $30M in Apple stock options earned from his board membership, but I never hear people talking about how Gore is clearly corrupt and Apple is influence peddling because of this relationship.
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:48 AM on September 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


Once newsrooms were made answerable to the bottom line of their respective companies, actual journalism became an endangered species. False Equivalence came into fashion once Fox News became so successful using it, and other news orgs had to chase them for ratings. We are living in a media landscape built by decades of the right's "liberal media" siren song.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on September 16, 2016


The problem with the "speaking fees are influence peddling" hypothesis is that it's easily disproven, because people with no remaining influence still command very large speaking fees.

but my point was that it's not really something you can disprove or prove. especially since "influence" is not a strictly defined notion. it's not a matter of "true" or "false" but the context you put your facts in, how you believe the world works. journalism isn't about "facts" but putting those facts together to say something meaningful, which always involves beliefs and persepctive.

Al Gore cashed in $30M in Apple stock options earned from his board membership, but I never hear people talking about how Gore is clearly corrupt and Apple is influence peddling because of this relationship.

Just why do you think Al Gore, career politician from a family of politicans with no business experience whatsoever, was on the board of a major business? Something nobody talks about is the decision during the first Clinton administration to not break-up Microsoft. Given how strong the facts were in the monopoly case and how much contempt Gates et al showed in court, it would have been a natural decision. Do you think the lesson was lost on how much power the government can bring to bear in the software inustry? Splitting Windows from the rest of MS would have far-reaching and positive effects on the whole US software industry, including the internet. But, the fact that blatantly abusing a monopoly got MS a slap on the wrist has been a huge signal to Silicon Valley that monopoly building is good. The results are plain.

American politics is so vastly corrupt the small things get lost, but yes, Al Gore is corrupt.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:05 AM on September 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


Liz Spayd is an embarrassment to the Times, all the more noticeably so because she succeeds Margaret Sullivan, by far the best of the public editors. Spayd, thus far, is on track to be the worst. Not a single of her columns as public editor has even achieved mediocrity; they are all bad.
posted by enn at 6:08 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's very simple.

Journalism costs money. Good journalism costs more money. Bad journalism makes more money.

The break-even point on this equation has moved towards bad journalism.

The role of public sector journalism is harder to define and justify when the public is now free to do its own journalism, and the political consensus which supports public sector journalism is weaker. Good journalism is harder to do than bad journalism, so suffers disproportionately. Like art, the sort that tells the truth is harder to sell than the stuff that peddles fantasy. Like art, supporting the former is easy to cast as elitism and anti-democratic. Like art, those objections have to be overcome by those who value the good stuff.

Support good journalism, and find ways to promote it. Unless you do that - actively, creatively, effectively - it will continue to be weakened in the face of all of the above.
posted by Devonian at 6:14 AM on September 16, 2016 [10 favorites]


There is the compare/contrast happening in this scenario? It's not there at all. It's being left up to those consuming the reporting to do the compare/contrast of the scandals contained in both of these candidates actions.

"We report, you decide" was always a lie; what a shame that even journalists have bought into it.

How panicked about Clinton's defeat do you have to be to find the Times's coverage to be not anti-Trump enough? There are days it seems that they struggle to find room on the political/election front page for any story that isn't anti-Trump.

The Times's coverage is essentially anti-candidate; Trump is loud and gets clicks, and so gets more of their anti-candidate coverage. but when there are stories about Hillary, they are likewise deeply unflattering. Coupled with the last month's relative dearth of Clinton appearances (and the consequent lack of opportunities to write low-effort news stories about her) and I can see why the Times would, right now, look especially anti-Trump.

This is not the same as being pro-Clinton. It means that whichever candidate is making the most noise at any given moment is likely to reap more negative coverage in their Times.

Trump's campaign strategy of not spending on advertising because he has worked out how to get news organizations to promote him for free therefore has a downside at papers like the Times that employ the "stenography + a pox on both their houses" model of false equivalency.
posted by kewb at 6:14 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Different search, different time AFAICT. You're looking for any reference to Trump & Bondi as of today and the Google algorithm does not actually require your words to show up in the article.

Well, I also did the search on the Times website and read a bunch of the articles, which you can too. it's not an algorithm issue. I saw too late that you were posting a tweet from two weeks ago, though. I think people have struggled with the understanding that the Times didn't break the Bondi story - it was another paper's story, it wasn't a vein they were working, and they soon did enough of their own orignal reporting to re-substantiate it. Our expectations that every outlet reports something that breaks come from television. Newspapers (good ones) don't usually do that. The shallowness of "the XYZ newspaper is reporting that...." coverage is something we ought to despise and it's how you get crap narratives that form a single consensus perspective that's also crap.

use media itself to show the lies....That requires committing to more post-production.

It also requires a shit ton of money. Comedy shows have a deep enough bench to sit a bunch of people in a room and have them scroll through endless hours of news appearances to find a gotcha! News organizations are typically much less well resourced than these entertainment shows. Which really reflects our cultural priorities and preferences, but that's another issue.
posted by Miko at 6:17 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


The people who hate Trump don't depend on corporate media for their political fix, and Trump supporters sure don't read the NYT or listen to NPR, and if Trump wins it won't be because the media weren't doing enough fact checking, because national campaigns never rely on facts, and God help any politician who stupidly believes facts have anything to do with who wins elections. Nor is this campaign going to be decided by who has the most TV ads, or Clinton would already have the popular vote in the bag. What this Presidential election is going boil down to, as they always do, is fear.

If voters are more afraid of terrorism, immigrants, and losing blue collar jobs to outsourcing, Trump wins. If voters are more afraid of rolling back civil rights, weakening the already weakened social safety net, or trade wars, Clinton wins. At least that's how I see it.
posted by Beholder at 6:52 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think people have struggled with the understanding that the Times didn't break the Bondi story - it was another paper's story, it wasn't a vein they were working, and they soon did enough of their own orignal reporting to re-substantiate it. 

I'm not struggling with that, I'm struggling with calling the NYT's reporting "soon", since this obvious scandal involving one of the most important political figures in the country was first reported on more than three months ago by a top 25 newspaper.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:05 AM on September 16, 2016


Art of the lie
Yes, I’d lie to you

Two relevant articles from last week's The Economist newspaper on "Post-truth politics"
posted by chavenet at 7:23 AM on September 16, 2016


I've begun to suspect that this feature of journalism is seen by a certain sort of person as a great reason to get into the field: that it's a respected, remunerated profession (in the right places at the right levels), but doesn't require the commitment or rigor that the other traditional professions of law, education, medicine, and so forth do.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:29 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


It also requires a shit ton of money. Comedy shows have a deep enough bench to sit a bunch of people in a room and have them scroll through endless hours of news appearances to find a gotcha! News organizations are typically much less well resourced than these entertainment shows. Which really reflects our cultural priorities and preferences, but that's another issue.

I disagree that this is the root of the issue. Journalists also don't point out contradictions when the untruths concerned have already been called out on comedy shows and a candidate (realistically, mainly Trump) just says them again and again after it is proven untrue. That's not a resourcing issue, that's knowingly presenting readers with untruths in the service of someone who desires power over them and refusing to point that out.

Journalists often seem to me to like to think of themselves as telling truth to power. It's very far from that to actively refuse to point out the untrue things said by those in power where it isn't a matter of ideology, it isn't a matter of debate, it's just plain facts at stake. If a candidate states they have never said something and have previously been shown to have done so on video that has already been shown to said journalist, well now, the journalist should point that out or go back to being the morally repellent, spineless, pointless regurgitatior of press releases they have shown themselves to be. Just don't claim to have any journalistic integrity afterwards, because at the point that one is knowingly repeating untrue propaganda there's not much integrity left in the message. It degrades the quality of democratic debate, and if they believe in the concept of a fourth estate then it's a betrayal of the very foundations of the claim to legitimacy of their profession.

Few things disgust me. A press that will not be an effective watchdog is one.
posted by jaduncan at 8:09 AM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


but my point was that it's not really something you can disprove or prove. especially since "influence" is not a strictly defined notion. it's not a matter of "true" or "false" but the context you put your facts in, how you believe the world works. journalism isn't about "facts" but putting those facts together to say something meaningful, which always involves beliefs and persepctive.

Yeah, but you got to tell a plausible story. Your story that Clinton's speaking fees only make sense as part of some network of influence peddling isn't plausible because there are a bunch of equally (or less) famous people who earn the exact same fees yet have no influence to peddle.

There's a difference between being unable to present airtight proof and just spinning whatever story you please without accounting for the facts at all.
posted by straight at 8:12 AM on September 16, 2016


Comedy shows have a deep enough bench to sit a bunch of people in a room and have them scroll through endless hours of news appearances to find a gotcha!

They don't do that and havent for a long time. There are services out there that used closed captioning to make TV shows searchable. Why, right here on metafilter we learned about this 3 years ago
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:14 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Welcome to the 2016 News Cycle
Alex Jones: Clinton eats Christian babies!

Trump: People are saying Clinton eats Christian babies. I don't know, people are saying it.

Press: Clinton campaign dogged by questions about infant cannibalism.

[...]

Trump: Cannibal Hillary claims she doesn't eat babies. Does anyone believe that?

Press: Both campaigns are being less than fully transparent.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:30 AM on September 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


If anything, the Times' effort to stay, even slightly, away from the Post's decision to simply become an annex to the Clinton press shop will preserve its credibility to sell some bombshell Trump revelation.

Bullshit. Here's a perfect example of the NYT vs. WP when it comes to reporting. This was regarding an event where a prominent birther was invited by Trump to speak on his behalf, a claim that Trump has repeated multiple times in the last year, and where the two sentences preceding the one they chose were lies that the NYT could have spent literally 10 seconds looking up to refute.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:53 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


And the actual articles from the NYT and the WP make the contrasts between the two even starker.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:55 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but you got to tell a plausible story. Your story that Clinton's speaking fees only make sense as part of some network of influence peddling isn't plausible because there are a bunch of equally (or less) famous people who earn the exact same fees yet have no influence to peddle.

"everyone is doing it" is hardly a counter-argument. especially when your examples are Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but you got to tell a plausible story. Your story that Clinton's speaking fees only make sense as part of some network of influence peddling isn't plausible because there are a bunch of equally (or less) famous people who earn the exact same fees yet have no influence to peddle.

but i think my actual point is validated, which is that facts have nothing to do with whether you believe Clinton is corrupt or not. you can take the same facts an argue either way. but the world that your argument lives in, is one where rich people give large sums of money away for no benefit other than hearing a "famous person" give a half-hour speech. Now, this may be true but you'd think the market for speeches would skew away from political figures. I believe Clinton commands top dollar for her talks > $300K. Is she really that interesting or profound?

but there is a secondary point which is that the world your argument lives in is one where celebrity is just some natural quality, rather than a carefully managed and manufactured product. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump wouldn't have the "celebrity" they have without careful brand building on the part of their handlers and their mass media content distributors. Does this have nothing to do with how a plutocracy runs the US?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Matt Lauer was simply doing what the media has been doing now for a few decades. It's just never been so visible and obvious. His "moderating" was a visible symptom of a very very deep problem." --zardoz
"Right, but that was its Skynet moment." --Burhanistan
I have been saying something to this effect for quite some time. In my case, it's a term that comes up every time one of the conservative "intellectuals" has a sudden crisis of conscience regarding just how far down the rabbit hole the party has gone.

I usually just shrug and think to myself how that's exactly what the reality-based community has been saying for decades while those same "intellectuals" have been plugging their ears and screaming "la-la-la."

But the most worrisome thing is this: A Skynet moment -- whether talking about conservatives, media figures, or anything else -- implies that we've already reached the point of no return. The "Oh, shit!" is typically followed by a "We're too late..." and then by a whole lot of collateral damage.
posted by mystyk at 9:12 AM on September 16, 2016


one where rich people give large sums of money away for no benefit other than hearing a "famous person" give a half-hour speech.

There's a lot of ways in which once you have a lot of money, what you're doing with it is trading in status. Clinton may not be really that profound, but she's held the offices of Senator and Secretary of State and those are perspectives that are interesting (and would be even more interesting if she could/would actually talk freely about them) AND high-status.

At a *minimum*, she's not too different from whatever piece of art is currently fetching six figures on the market for whatever partly social-proof partly aesthetic partly arbitrary reason.
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:16 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


At a *minimum*, she's not too different from whatever piece of art is currently fetching six figures on the market for whatever partly social-proof partly aesthetic partly arbitrary reason.

Mm, not sure a ticket to a Clinton talk represents an investment (however risky and/or misguided) in the way that expensive art does.
posted by Dysk at 9:22 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to shell out $600 for a ticket to a Clinton speech any more than I would for a $600 bottle of wine, but that doesn't mean that high-end wine is some kind of influence-peddling scheme where people are paying off vineyards in search of some quid pro quo from corrupt vintners.
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:31 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Holy crap! Wonder how long it will be before this is edited:

"Mr. Trump also falsely accused Hillary Clinton of having first raised questions about Mr. Obama’s birthplace during the 2008 Democratic primary." /slnytimes
posted by kewb at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2016


Mm, not sure a ticket to a Clinton talk represents an investment (however risky and/or misguided) in the way that expensive art does.

There are a number of differences one could point out between speeches from high-profile people and art -- they aren't financial investments, they're performative and temporary, they're generally shared by a group rather than owned by any one person, and the context is often an organizational one where the speech serves as a semantic piece in reinforcing a group narrative.

Those differences don't make the commonality of trading in status go away.

(And I suppose one could argue that some expensive pieces of art are temporary -- say, the temple at burning man -- or are performed, and some of the boundaries blur and commonalities look stronger, but we don't really need to do that.)
posted by wildblueyonder at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Okay, but I really don't think six-figure art represents the pure status symbol in the way that so many other things do.
posted by Dysk at 10:30 AM on September 16, 2016


I think another problem with "he said/she said" reporting covering major candidates is that it's especially pernicious in the not-insignificant number of cases when both Republican and Democratic candidates are being dishonest.
posted by layceepee at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


but i think my actual point is validated, which is that facts have nothing to do with whether you believe Clinton is corrupt or not. you can take the same facts an argue either way. but the world that your argument lives in, is one where rich people give large sums of money away for no benefit other than hearing a "famous person" give a half-hour speech.

I don't know about you, but I'm living in a world where rich people routinely spend much larger sums of money for much more frivolous things.

Maybe it would help if you'd be more specific about what you mean with the word "corrupt"? What's the evidence that Clinton did something she shouldn't have done in return for those donations or speaking fees? What actual harm do you think was done by the those things you allege that she did?

In particular, you are responding to a complaint that the claim that "Hilary certainly is disgusting" is unwarranted. In context, this was not a claim that all politicians are disgusting. What specifically has Clinton done that makes her "disgusting" compared to those politicians you would not describe as disgusting?
posted by straight at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


Suppose journalists deem Clinton’s use of private email servers a minor offense compared with Trump inciting Russia to influence an American election by hacking into computers — remember that? Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope.

This is such bullshit, to act like the Times doesn't constantly pick and choose what stories should be "news" based on its ideology --that's almost the definition of the New York Times as the major consensus publication, they feel burdened with that pressure to be the paper of record and they act on it.

cf anything Noam Chomsky ever said about the New York Times
cf Yale studies on Climate Change in the media and the horridly-centrist-and-false-equivalence-out-the-butt NYT climate blog

Why are they denying that this is what they do, NOW? of all times?
posted by eustatic at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe it would help if you'd be more specific about what you mean with the word "corrupt"? What's the evidence that Clinton did something she shouldn't have done in return for those donations or speaking fees? What actual harm do you think was done by the those things you allege that she did?

Well, while I certainly wouldn't call Clinton disgusting or suggest that she's any more corrupt than anyone else involved in politics, there is an argument that 'networking' (which is certainly a large part of the kinds of events people like Clinton get invited to speak at) is just socially condoned nepotism/corruption.
posted by Dysk at 10:49 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've begun to suspect that this feature of journalism is seen by a certain sort of person as a great reason to get into the field: that it's a respected, remunerated profession (in the right places at the right levels), but doesn't require the commitment or rigor that the other traditional professions of law, education, medicine, and so forth do.

I've known a lot of journalists over the years, and I even know a financially successful one. But I think it's fair to say that people don't go into journalism for the money (unless they are deluded). It's about as wise of a career decision as becoming an actor for the money...

As far as being a 'respected' profession... Given the critiques from the right, from the left, and from academia on the profession, do you really think it's respected?

If anything, this conversation is a nuanced calm discussion of the problems of modern journalism, but I wouldn't anyone here is showing respect for modern journalism (I don't think this discussion is unfair, either, btw).
posted by el io at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Craig Mazin had an interesting take on this from a fiction-writing perspective.

How do you tell a story about this villain? You can't, because the Boring Villain is telling his own terrible, boring story.

posted by gottabefunky at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


One huge change that's taken place over the past 30 or so years is that the Republican establishment has decided to never speak in good faith, that the repetition of lies is a worthwhile political strategy. The media still pretends that they do.
posted by tippiedog at 11:39 AM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, while I certainly wouldn't call Clinton disgusting or suggest that she's any more corrupt than anyone else involved in politics, there is an argument that 'networking' (which is certainly a large part of the kinds of events people like Clinton get invited to speak at) is just socially condoned nepotism/corruption.

That's an amazingly broad and essentially useless definition of corruption. By that standard, just about everyone's "corrupt". It's far simpler to judge politicians, and indeed most others, by what they say and do rather than on some abstract notion of this sort.
posted by CaffinatedOne at 12:30 PM on September 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Clinton gets shit done and networks with others who want to get shit done. Corrupt? Bah.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:35 PM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


Drumpf himself has bragged about how he did political networking to get his real estate deals done in NYC, and one of the more recent books about him outlines how he was using political influence and obfuscation (telling one party that he had the deal done while telling the other party he had the deal done when there was in fact no deal finished) to achieve things back when he was doing more than just licensing his name.

The influence of networking on business deals has never been a secret. Neither has it been in politics. It might be argued that one of the biggest reasons that Congress has gotten nothing done in the past X years is that networking, that is the establishing of friendly connections outside of the "business environment" of the workplace, has entirely broken down during the years starting with the Clinton administration and continuing today.

i've heard that it used to be the case that the President would regularly hold cocktail hours at the White House for Congress members. But that hasn't happened since at least the GWB years.
posted by hippybear at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, while I certainly wouldn't call Clinton disgusting or suggest that she's any more corrupt than anyone else involved in politics, there is an argument that 'networking' (which is certainly a large part of the kinds of events people like Clinton get invited to speak at) is just socially condoned nepotism/corruption.

This is not remotely like naming a specific thing Clinton did that she should not have done in return for those speaking fees/donations, nor does it name a specific harm done by any of Clinton's actions related to those speaking fees or foundation donations. I have yet to see anyone specify any such harm done.
posted by straight at 3:11 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Al Gore might actually be corrupt, but it wouldn't be proved by anything said so far. Microsoft wasn't broken up because it was part of the only economic sector that was growing exponentially while every other part of the economic sector was cratering at the time. When the railroads and the oil companies and the telcos got spanked in DC it was after decades of rot. Microsoft was still barely a toddler. Al Gore getting a seat on the Apple board is practically a ready-made: the only major politician and public figure who got that digital changes everything. Hell, he and we learned that a lie based upon a deliberate misinterpretation of a quote has more leg than any given thousand NYT oped pieces, thanks to digital communication.
posted by Chitownfats at 3:12 PM on September 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think it's long past time we stopped pretending that certain points of view are reasonable and deserve reporting.

A year ago I heard a snippet of an hour-long speech on my local (Minnesota) NPR station by Michelle Bachmann. I suppose it was broadcast in the interests of "balance" and "fairness". The fact that she's a fucking kook is immaterial, I suppose. But given that people like Michelle Bachmann, and people who support Michelle Bachmann, wouldn't listen to NPR on a bet, it does make you wonder why they bother trying to be "fair". I certainly wouldn't.

Next week: Is The Earth Flat? Experts disagree. Later, Should We Put Our Jews in Ovens? Listen to Prominent Experts discuss.
posted by adam hominem at 4:17 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Honestly how many potential Trump supporters even give a shit what the Times thinks of him? I'm bothered more by stuff like the Fallon appearance.
posted by atoxyl at 6:01 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


But a LOT (too many, IMHO) potential Clinton supporters care what the Times think of her. Fortunately, most of those are in New York, which Hillary cannot lose (can she?)

Worried about the Fallon appearance? Well, this is what all the other Late Night Comedians are saying...
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:49 PM on September 16, 2016


I believe Clinton commands top dollar for her talks > $300K. Is she really that interesting or profound?

According to Gallup, Hillary Clinton, as of 2015, was the most admired woman in the U.S. for a record 20 years.
posted by JackFlash at 7:30 PM on September 16, 2016 [6 favorites]


There really should be some slacktivist petition campaigns to get Clinton Derangement Syndrome put in the DSM. It's quite astonishing how much static can be in an otherwise intelligent person's perception of her.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:47 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it's long past time we stopped pretending that certain points of view are reasonable and deserve reporting.

Who's "we"? at least some people in the state wanted to hear Michele Bachmann; after all, they elected her to Congress four times. This is their radio station, too. Also, are you referring to the Tea Party rebuttal to Obama's 2011 SOTU speech? Because I, for one, wanted to hear that in real time, and I don't think I'm alone. And it's not because I agree with her or think her points of view are reasonable, but because that brand of political action was important at the time and it was useful to many people across the ideological spectrum to understand what they were advocating.

I don't know. I have a lot of critiques of how people seem to be understanding and using the media today; what I seem to mainly people arguing it's basically not ideological enough. It's not reporting on the topics they want with the lean they want. I also hear a lot of beefing about the general bias of an outlet, but it doesn't hold up well when the news products those people are consuming are coming at them in a form divorced from the entire broader context of how that organization produces news on a daily basis, day in and day out, over years. It's piecemeal, cherry-picked, and outrage-focused. I'm really concerned about media, but not because news organizations are acting dramatically different from before. It's that the level of media literacy is dropping into the sewer, and that the ways media products are being consumed - refracted, processed, contested, bandied about, misrepresented, presented out of its own context - have a pernicious effect. We can hop up and down about how imperfect these outlets are, but when we've stamped them to bloody bits with our righteous outrage and they're all completely defunded and gone, we are not going to be better off. There will be no coverage to be outraged about then. We will just have zero clue what the hell is actually going on or how to understand it in any kind of context.
posted by Miko at 9:42 PM on September 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


Kristof on false equivalence.
posted by Miko at 3:29 AM on September 17, 2016


The right has demonized the press for more than two decades. At least since Bill Clinton was elected, but beginning with the Southern Strategy. The common trope that facts have a liberal bias is not to be taken lightly, and the right did not take it lightly.
However, 9/11 was a watershed. Before 9/11, the big media left and right mostly ignored the right-wing criticism. After, they were consumed by the universal fear and they laid themselves flat on the back for the false dogma of equivalence. I know, because I was a journalist back then, and I quit in 2002 when I realized our management would not ever get back to supporting real reporting of actual facts.
I can understand why some people criticize Hillary for not voting against the Iraq war. That is also my main complaint about her. But as someone who was working at a leftist newspaper at 9/11, I'm more inclined to be amazed and proud of the people who had the guts to say no than to blame those who said yes.
Like many people who have lived in NYC, for me, 9/11 was a catastrophe. Of course I had friends who were affected. My brother lost friends. I will never forget that day, where I was, what I was doing. I was at a newsroom, looking at that second plane flying in on CNN. But how is it that those among us who actually had a concern for the people of New York were also the very few people who criticized the war-mongering and the hate and the licking up to right wing propaganda?
Sorry, this might seem like a digression. What I am trying to say is that even left-leaning media conformed to rightwing standards after 9/11 because they had no idea how to deal with something so terrible, and they have never recovered.
posted by mumimor at 9:24 AM on September 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


[Please do not get stuck on Michele Bachmann. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:07 PM on September 17, 2016


but my point was that it's not really something you can disprove or prove. especially since "influence" is not a strictly defined notion. it's not a matter of "true" or "false" but the context you put your facts in, how you believe the world works. journalism isn't about "facts" but putting those facts together to say something meaningful, which always involves beliefs and persepctive.

The allegations, such as they are, against the Clinton Foundation, emerge in part from the of substantial donations originating from royals of nations like Qatar or Saudi Arabia being contemporaneous with major arms deals with those nations. You could argue, who else are the Saudis going to buy from? The Russians? Are we suggesting that these donations "greased the wheels"? Or were those deals always going to happen?

The nature of such a thing, helmed by a former president, and, more importantly, by a sitting, high-profile Secretary of State, will always be susceptible to these questions. Even if everything was handled according to both the letter and the spirit of the law.
posted by theorique at 4:47 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Mike Pence Says His Role Model for Vice President is Dick Cheney

Ha ha, he wishes.

Trump will probably use him as a footstool or something.
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


And Spayd continues to devour her foot with her latest musing on the nature of a lie:

I asked the political editor Carolyn Ryan about when that word gets clearance for use. Her definition of a lie is when there’s a deliberate attempt to deceive — when someone knowingly fails to tell the truth.

“A lie is different from the spin, exaggerations and squabbling between candidates that are commonplace in politics,” she said. “It is not a word we will use lightly.”

These are the factors that Ryan said would determine the conditions under which the word is used:

■ It is not used for matters of opinion, but only when the facts are demonstrably clear.

■ Intentionality is important — in the case of Trump and birtherism, he repeated the lie for years, in the face of overwhelming facts that disproved it, suggesting this was a deliberate attempt by Trump to deceive.

■ It is not used to police more frivolous disputes among political candidates or political factions.

“Lie” is a loaded word, all right, a favorite of campaign operatives. You score every time you can get the media to catch your opponent in one, and it’s into the bonus round if you can get them to actually call it a “lie.”


John Cole has an excellent response:

Oh, jesus fucking christ. According to the NYT’s alchemical handbook, a lie is no longer a lie when it is a minor or frivolous lie. These people have completely lost the plot and the NY Times is a rudderless organization at this point. Right now there are thousands of journalism professors hoping their students who work at the NY Times don’t have their school name published in their bio.

If a house was on fire, and the NY Times was the fire department, the news team would come up and describe in glorious detail the size and color of the flames, the smell of the smoke, the extent of the damage, all the while missing Donald Trump sitting on a pile of empty kerosene containers juggling road flares. The analysis squad would then swoop in and point out that this is going to make living there hard, that other house have been on fire before and were rebuilt, and that really, both sides have had house fires and right now the polling data says it is 50/50 as to whether the fire should be put out.

Ross Douthat would write that the fire was God’s will, Brooks would note that sometimes true conservatism means just letting things burn and that out of this may arise a Burkean renewal of spirit, political arsonist Maureen Dowd would run to the back yard and set the shed on fire before putting on her Pradas and calling in to flirt with Don Imus, and Paul Krugman would single-handedly save all the occupants of the household and then pass out from exhaustion as the only person manning a firehose.

A couple days later, Liz Spayd would show up to wank about the true nature of a fire hydrant, when it is and is not appropriate to use one, describe the platonic ideal of firefighting, and then piss on the ashes. A month later Dean Baquet would show up reeking of absinthe and crab boil, mumble something about needing to do a better job next time, and then fuck off out of sight for a month until the next time the New York Times shits the bed.

The whole organization is fucking hopelessly lost right now.


The Times is due for a house cleaning, apparently.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Norm Ornstein discussion with WaPo journalist Chris Cillizza: A media critic called my sort of journalism ‘pathetic.’ Then we had an email conversation about it.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:36 PM on September 20, 2016


That Cole rant is wonderful. I love it when he gets so pissed off that you can almost read the spittle on the screen.
posted by octothorpe at 7:22 PM on September 20, 2016


I don't really admire rants. They don't seem to be getting us much of anywhere with changing the conversation or the numbers in this race, do they? I think the points made in the piece are important, even if you disagree with them. What value is there in using the specific terminology "lie?" Especially if the word is cheapened and polemicized by its use in campaigns and advocacy for campaigns? Why is it so crazy to be a little more reserved about dropping the word in, especially when, as the public editor notes, some of the readers see it as editorializing and biased?

Again, I think the trouble is that people are looking for something from the news organizations that they aren't there to create, and especially looking for a particular ideological spin. The Times takes a generally moderate stance, end of story. Candidates lie, that's not news. Newspapers already point out over and over again that the facts don't line up with all the expressions of politicians - whether or not they use the playground term "lie" is, for me, beside the point of the actual content. I think it's a good idea not to use that relatively uninformative term without giving a lot of thought to what is meant and how it shapes narrative. This demand to "use the term lie!!" is for me indistinguishable from the calls for pols to "denounce" some terrible statement - a kind of language theatre that doesn't really carry much rhetorical weight and isn't the mission of a serious news organization.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Again, I think the trouble is that people are looking for something from the news organizations that they aren't there to create, and especially looking for a particular ideological spin. The Times takes a generally moderate stance, end of story. Candidates lie, that's not news. Newspapers already point out over and over again that the facts don't line up

This seems to be a really poor analysis of the articles posted, and a fundamental misreading of what people are saying in the thread. The problem is, in fact, that the NYT and other news organizations don't point out over and over again that the facts don't line up. Take the birther speech from last week, for instance. The NYT basically just repeated Trump's claims, giving them essentially the same weight as facts, whereas other organizations like the WP actually pointed out that they were not actually facts. Meanwhile, a good amount of shoe leather was spent on tracking down and exposing "lies" from Democrats that actually turned out not to be so. It wasn't objective or moderate, it was displaying a definite ideological lean.

It's the same problem with the debate moderators. By your reckoning, any sort of fact-checking done during the debates should be shut down, and any claims should be given the same weight of their rebuttals, regardless of how objectively wrong or misleading they might be. That is in essence Trump's position, and it's a danger to journalism, and with someone like Trump, the very idea of a free press.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:35 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


There are several layers of difficult here, all challenging the classic understandings of journalism and reporting. I'm not in a history/theory mode right now, so I'll get straight to the nitty-gritty of it: a huge number of my friends, family, colleagues and students have no idea how to discern between true and false information - at all. That goes across the board, I have right-wing, center and left conspiracy theory believers among my friends and family, and they all trust media similar to Fox News (or actual Fox News, which they get on the internet). This includes people with long post-graduate education. I think many of us have met engineers who are 9/11 truthers, or have heard of anti-vac doctors.
Critical examination was part of the middle school curriculum here when I was a child, but hey, I remember well how half the class didn't get it at all. Today it is not part of the curriculum, and hasn't been since what Americans call No Child Left Behind, which is widespread across the globe. I have not been good at doing homework with my own kids, but I have taught them to examine sources critically. How many overworked, tired and confused parents have done that? Specially after they met criticism from other parents and the schools?

In the current media situation and with the current level of education, the serious media have an obligation to report in a manner that can be understood by people who are in an important sense illiterate. They have no idea of what the difference is between fact and opinion. They cannot parse the difference between emotion and policy.
Many of todays tabloids started out that way, with the ambition of informing and educating the less-educated. We all know where they are now, but the need is still there, and maybe it needs an even broader outreach today.
posted by mumimor at 7:15 AM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


the NYT and other news organizations don't point out over and over again that the facts don't line up.

As far back as July, the Times called the birther thing "long debunked, and until then confined to right-wing conspiracy theorists." This is what I mean about reading in a wider context. Even last week, the headline was "Trump Drops False Birther Theory" and said "the conspiracy theory he had promoted for years was baseless....Instead, he claimed, falsely, that questions about Mr. Obama’s citizenship were initially stirred by the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton." An earlier story about the revival of the claim said he "refused again to acknowledge that President Obama was born in the United States" [stated as fact] and mentions he tried to "falsely blame" Clinton and that "again, falsely" he had claimed to obtain a birth certificate. An editorial on the 16th was titled "Donald Trump's Birther Lie" and an op-ed column was "Trump Makes HIs Birther Lie Worse." "Debunked," "false," "baseless," "falsely," "lie"...it seems pretty clear to me?

Mumimor, I think you have made a valuable observation. The media literacy of the general population is so low that classic approaches - even where "classic" means "1980s and 90s" - are ineffective and unclear to people. No longer do people know how to consume a news product. It's also consumed piecemeal via social media post, which divorces content from broader and lengthier streams of reporting. Outlets can no longer assume people are reading with that context, at all. And you're absolutely correct - I had classes in critical media reading in the 80s, but I think it was unusual enough then, and I haven't heard of any such thing happening recently. I suppose I do have to accept that many/most people don't read news sources the way I do, or even the way journalists do. It really is a challenge to the entire structure and function of news organizations to work within this fractured media reality while maintaining their own standards and not fundamentally becoming something different, a Fox-like organ that is all about headline message and spin, and in which every story has to be entirely self-contained because it will be utterly divorced from all other reporting, or because people don't know the difference between an op-ed, an analysis piece, and a news piece.

And I think the landscape is going to be interesting, because I'm not sure that every media outlet will really decide their obligation is reporting for the "illiterate." In an age of fragmenting markets, each group may (like the WSJ most definitely has) decide it is a reporting for a very particular sector. As a result, they would then become comfortable shrugging off critique of their choices. I'm not sure where the Times is in that discussion; it has already committed to being a paper for the literate elite as regards its advertising decisions and to some extent its content delivery choices. A lot of this stuff, I think, comes from surprise at its being consumed in ways and in venues Times content was never consumed before. The WP under Bezos seems to have made the calculated decision that it's going to aim at the broad middle, giving the people what they want (investigation, grilling, gotchas, etc.) in a way designed to compete with born-online content, especially in a way that's been embraced by the anti-Trump people (certainly including me; they've held his feet to the fire better than anyone, I think). Interesting.
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Shorenstein Center Report: News Coverage of the 2016 National Conventions: Negative News, Lacking Context
What appeared to be missing from this negative coverage, however, was context. For example, although Clinton’s email issue was clearly deemed important by the media, relatively few stories provided background to help news consumers make sense of the issue—what harm was caused by her actions, or how common these actions are among elected officials. And in keeping with patterns noted earlier in the election cycle, coverage of policy and issues, although they were in the forefront at the conventions, continued to take a back seat to polls, projections, and scandal.
posted by Miko at 3:16 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


A lot of this stuff, I think, comes from surprise at its being consumed in ways and in venues Times content was never consumed before.

This is a very interesting observation, I think you are right, and I think that this is at the core of the current crisis of print media. I've been thinking a lot about it for professional reasons, and I have been confused by the fact that in many ways, print on paper is growing. People buy more books, more magazines, and even some very specific print news more than ever. Yet the traditional newspapers are clearly flailing - and failing when it comes to informing people. Your observation makes a lot of sense of this.
posted by mumimor at 2:57 AM on September 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


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