There is some debate tonight

A debate in which many media outlets are trying to argue themselves out of doing their job. “No fact-checking!” is the cry; their job is to just report, not actually assess and evaluate what is said. This is not something new. This has been a problem for a good long time.

Anyone remember Jodi Wilgoren? The NY Times reporter who insisted that she didn’t have time to determine what the truth was? She used to write all these articles on creation and evolution that carefully dedicated just as much time to presenting the creationism side as the evolution side, and couldn’t be troubled to check whether what the creationists were saying was factually true. She even came right out and said her job was to explain their views.

Eschaton: Journamalism: Jodi Wilgoren tells us how she sees her job:

I don’t consider myself a creationist. I don’t have any interest in sharing my personal views on how the canyon was carved, mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views — it takes all my energy as a reporter and writer to understand and explain my subjects’ views fairly and thoroughly.

One of the complaints journalists have with bloggers is that they don’t do “original reporting.” But, now we see that “original reporting” has, for some journalists, become nothing more than finding people who have opinions on stuff and telling readers what those opinions are. And, amazingly, according to Wilgoren, she expends no effort in contemplating the credibility of those views. Apparently her editors are happy with this.

Jeebus. As PZ Myers writes:

Who needs facts, ideas, and research? The reporter’s brain is like an empty sponge, free of content, which just soaks up everyone’s opinions indiscriminately and without judgement, and is then wrung out over the pages of the newspaper. Actually thinking and evaluating those opinions in the light of evidence isn’t possible with a sponge for a brain.

When did journalism come to this deplorable state?

When did the NY Times decide that porosity, permeability, and flocculence were important job qualifications?

That was in 2005. You don’t believe me? She was writing a series of articles on evolution and creation that simply pretended that the fools on the other side were fully credible and honest. Here’s an example: Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive. Just look at that title alone: evolution is on the defensive, put there by scholars. The entire article reads like a press release from the Discovery Institute, recounting the tale of their long struggle, and has nothing from the side of science other than a quote from Eugenie Scott which praises the DI for “They have packaged their message much more cleverly”. I think Eugenie would have said much more about the content of their package, but that wouldn’t get published in a Wilgoren article.

What happened to her? She got promoted.

Nothing has changed. I don’t expect anything from tonight’s debate other than that, maybe, the world will be made a little worse by the slack assholes of journalism who stand guard to make sure every lie is given the same respect as the truth.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    The purpose of advertisement-financed TV channels is not to provide truh, educaion or culture to the viewers.
    The purpose is to sell advertising time tothe advertisers as profitably as possible. The viewers are not the customers. The viewers are the suckers that pay for the stuff through highe prices on consumer products.
    One early victim of McCarthyism was a guy in TV who thought jounalism meant actually checking the facts of McCary’s drivel. He lost his job and was tagged a communist

  2. says

    it seems some reporters mistake objectivity with neutrality.
    “Objectivity called for journalists to develop a consistent method of testing information – a transparent approach to evidence – precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.”

    “The second implication is that this neutral voice, without a discipline of verification, creates a veneer covering something hollow. Journalists who select sources to express what is really their own point of view, and then use the neutral voice to make it seem objective, are engaged in a form of deception. This damages the credibility of the craft by making it seem unprincipled, dishonest, and biased”

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @2:

    The purpose of advertisement-financed TV channels is not to provide truth, educaion or culture to the viewers.

    QFT, your local PBS will gladly accept your donation in any amount you want to give, so they can continue to provide information to educate their viewers without influence by commercial sponsors, being sponsored by you, the viewers, only.
    —paid for by slitheytove, as their donation to PBS.
    sorry to butt in so rudely with that shill.

  4. joel says

    A Parable about the News

    Once upon a time there were two political activist groups working overtime. One group insisted, loudly, that 2+2=3, and the other group said, equally loudly, that 2+2=4. This being a political dispute, it was only natural that all of the national news outlets covered the controversy. And almost all of them covered it the same way: A reporter would talk to leaders from both groups, get quotes from both sides, flesh out the story with quotes from some locals giving opinions about the dispute, and publish. There was also the occasional “horse race” story giving the results of national opinion polls on the question, showing the gains and losses of the two sides as they succeeded or failed in swaying public opinion in their favor. All of the news outlets handled the story like this.

    Except one. One reporter, more curious and enterprising than his peers, decided to pay a visit to the local university, to the math department, where he interviewed an actual mathematician. “What do you think about this controversy, professor?”

    He said, “It’s ridiculous. Two and two is four, no question.”

    The reporter blinked. “Really? Are you sure?”

    “Yes, I’m sure. Arithmetic is logically consistent and well understood. It gives us good results in statistics, finance, the natural sciences, any field you care to name. Except journalism, apparently.”

    “Well, that’s interesting, sir. Thank you for your time.” Before leaving campus he talked to a few more mathematicians and graduate students, and got the same answer from all of them.

    So he returned to his office and wrote his article, which said, “Academics appear to be extremely one-sided on this issue. Groupthink may be a problem on campus.” The article also quoted a leader of the Three Forever! group who said, “It is hardly surprising that ivory tower academics whose paychecks come from the government should take a stand that results in the corruption and miseducation of America’s youth.” A couple quotes from leaders of the Four Power group were also included, giving balance to the article. But nowhere in this article, or in any other news story on any topic in the world, was there any hint that concepts like True and False might exist independently of political opinion.

  5. Rich Woods says

    mostly because I’ve spent almost no time pondering my personal views

    What was that quote about ‘the unexamined life’? Damn. It eludes me right now…