Mike the Mad Biologist

So How Do We Stop Bad Reporting?

I raise the question, which has rattled around in my head for a while, after reading two posts, one by ScienceBlogling Tim Lambert, and one by Scott Lemieux. Tim connects the dots of the Gore-Chilean sea bass non-story:

Allow me to connect some dots here. How did the story get from People into an Australian tabloid? And how did it get from there to Jake Tapper?

I did a Factiva search and found that this was the first time that the Daily Telegraph had ever printed an opinion piece from the Humane Society International, so I called Rebecca Keeble and asked her about the genesis of the piece. It seems that the first she heard about the matter was when she was contacted by the Daily Telegraph, told that Gore had served Chilean sea bass, and was invited to write an opinion piece. She didn’t want to tell me who it was who commissioned the piece, but it’s not hard to figure out. You see, the opinion editor of the Daily Telegraph is Gore-hater Tim Blair. He first blogged about the story here. Then he contacted Keeble and put her opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph. Next he put up a post linking to Keeble’s piece. Then it was picked by Glenn Reynolds and Matt Drudge who can be relied upon to run with any anti-Gore story they come across. Once Drudge had linked it, Tapper knew it was OK for him to run with the story. And that’s how it’s done.

This isn’t the first time that Blair has used his position as opinion editor at the Daily Telegraph to advance his own personal agenda. See this post from Irfan Yusuf, on how Blair told Yusuf that the Telegraph would no longer publish him because Blair felt that he had been criticised on Yusuf’s blog.

Let’s move on to Lemieux, who relates something Marc Ambinder wrote about the Edwards’ haircut ‘scandal’ (bold original; italics mine):

But perhaps the most remarkable argument in Ambinder’s failed defense of political discourse as dimwitted junior-high-school gossip is this:

There is a difference in the political reality: fairly or unfairly, a healthy chunk of the national political press corps doesn’t like John Edwards.

Fairly or unfairly? Granting that Ambinder isn’t quite endorsing it, I’m amazed that anyone can see the question of whether or not reporters should use their reporting not to inform readers but to irresponsibly indulge their petty superficial prejudices about the individual candidates as a fairly debatable proposition. This open press corps contempt for Gore defined campaign 2000, and personally I think there are a lot of dead soldiers and Iraqis who think that what a president will actually do in office is more important that his or her suits and haircuts. Apparently, if the Democrats nominate Edwards we can look forward to another year of this kind of abominable conduct by the nation’s political reporters, and hey, it doesn’t matter to most of them if Antonin Scalia becomes the median vote on the Supreme Court.

So how does one stop this hackery? I realize reporters are human, but campaign reporters seem to be particularly unprofessional. The only suggestion I can think of is that newspapers let their reporters cover a particular campaign for only one week, and then rotate someone else in. At the very least, it might cut down on the cynicism.

One other point: this problem has nothing to do with framing or messaging. It’s about ‘working the refs.’ So how do we do that?

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    July 19, 2007

    Ignore them. More importantly, convince others to do the same.

    Or go the opposite route and viciously deconstruct the whole mess as frequently and publicly as possible, which is what most of my favourite bloggers do regularly.

  2. #2 Jennifer Ouellette
    July 19, 2007

    I wouldn’t advise ignoring them. This is not sloppy or merely “bad” reporting, it’s intrinsically dishonest reporting. Reporters who engage in this sort of thing should be held accountable; it’d be nice if there were some sort of penalty, but let’s not hold our collective breaths. Ditto for their editors, publishers, and for bottom feeders like Matt Drudge and Bill O’Reilly.

    Granted, O’Reilly and Drudge get off on the negative attention, and so do their rabid fans. But the average sane rational person — and they make up the silent majority — need to be aware of such behind-the-scene machinations. They’re ALREADY distrustful of the media in general. Gives us a bit of an edge. :)

  3. #3 Andy
    July 19, 2007

    Stephen Colbert does a wonderful job of satirizing the hackery of the press corps. That said, reporters do hunt as a pack, and there is such a thing as “conventional wisdom.” I think some of them just get sucked up in this Washington bubble of self-importance.

  4. #4 Joshua
    July 19, 2007

    Well, the key part of my first line was “convince others to do the same”. If nobody’s watching, listening, or reading, these people have no power.

  5. #5 Oran Kelley
    July 20, 2007

    Of course no voter would think that a haircut was a legitimate issue to judge a candidate by.

    Partisan hackery has gone on for roughly six gabillion years. It is an inevitable outcome of a situation where all adults can vote and about 2% pay enough attention to politics to be able to distinguish the important from the unimportant.

    What do you think the folks who serve that audience are going to dish up? Thoroughgoing economic analyses of the latest policy proposals?

    What I am shocked by is how much good reporting there still is. The market seems to mitigate pretty heavily against it.

  6. #6 Jason
    July 20, 2007

    I wonder how many of you all were upset by the excellent reporting of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes hatchet job on Bush?

  7. #7 Hank Roberts
    July 20, 2007

    You want bad reporting? Consider whoever reported on the geology for the Japanese Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, currently shut down.

    There was “a fault line” but the company’s geology report found the end of that fault line was “out in the ocean” and “the known fault line” did not “extend all the way to the mainland” so they felt safe building one of the world’s largest nuclear power plants directly along the line you get when you extend that known fault.

    Oh yeah? http://cnic.jp/english/newsletter/nit103/nit103img/TectonicJapan.gif

    What part of this didn’t the reporters get, and why aren’t they getting it now?

  8. #8 Oran Kelley
    July 21, 2007

    I wonder how many of you all were upset by the excellent reporting of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes hatchet job on Bush?

    I think a real hatchet job requires that the essential information that is presented be untrue. And as emerged, practically everything in the Killian memos was true, the only question was the authenticity of the memos themselves.

    So I’d say this is political hack work, but not a hatchet job.

  9. #9 Hank Roberts
    July 22, 2007

    Quite relevant — New Yorker, March 26, 2007, at 33, the quotes from Tim Griffin, former Republican campaign manager, recently installed as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

    “We think of ourselves as the creators of the ammunition in a war … We make the bullets” he is quoted as saying. The article goes on: “The documentary showed Griffin leading a team of researchers focussed on spotting inconsistencies, no matter how inconsequential, in Gore’s statements, and packaging them for the media. In 2004, Griffin reprised the role, leading the behind-the-scenes effot to disseminate negative information about John Kerry …. As Rove’s protege, he set up a boiler-room rapid-response operation …
    … Griffin suggested that his experience with the media would be an asset in his new job [as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas]. ‘A lot of what I do is communications,’ he said. ‘It’s no different than in the campaign’.”

    These are the people packaging and feeding “news” to the media — which includes feeding it to you bloggers.

    If there is any chance science bloggers can influence public opinion, private opinion is going to be focused intently on influencing what you write and rushing you into writing what they want first.

    Retractions don’t get noticed. Setting up a good competent caring science blogger to pass on one really nasty bogus piece of PR is a double win for the lying scum. They get their garbage passed out by someone with a reputation for good information, and damage that blogger’s reputation for the future.

    This isn’t kindergarden, kids. This is the middle of the freeway in rush hour.
    Look both ways even if you think you know which side is dangerous.

  10. #10 biber hap
    September 7, 2009

    biber hap

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.