The Murderousness of He-Said, She-Said Journalism

There are two sides to every story (at least), but often one of those sides is flat out stupid, if not immoral. Yet journalistic convention, in part, helps contribute to the tide of eliminationist rhetoric. That's a point I touched on yesterday, but RMuse fleshes it out much more:

...the main stream media is silent in reporting the connection between the shooter and comments' suggesting violence is an acceptable means of facilitating change in government. What the media is reporting are the offensive responses from Republican legislators that both sides need to dial back the violent rhetoric responsible for inciting the attack in Arizona. It is unthinkable to place blame on both sides for the violent rhetoric when it is certainly only those on the right who are responsible for suggesting violence is acceptable....

The main stream media at this point is as much at fault as the provocateurs of vitriol on the right by their silence and cooperation with Republicans in deflecting blame to all sides of the political spectrum. It is nice and politically correct to say that "everyone needs to calm down and stop the violent rhetoric" if each side was responsible, but they are not. Every bit of malfeasance has been on the right whether it is using gun metaphors or disrupting town hall meetings during the health care debate; to pretend otherwise is insulting and despicable.

Of course Republicans are going to say that everyone needs to stop the hateful and violent rhetoric because they are ill-equipped to take responsibility for anything they or their supporters do. However, the media has a responsibility to report the news accurately regardless of consequences to a political party. Even though Americans are not intelligent enough to draw conclusions without some pundit telling them what to think, they at least should have the opportunity to hear the truth. The sin of omission by the media is as wrong as outright lying and just as dangerous.

Someone else has also noticed the odd mainstream news media model of providing misinformation:

Republicans telling all sides to ratchet back the violent rhetoric implies the left is as guilty as the right when they are aware that it is only their side who has talked about "taking out" Democrats in Congress. The main stream media is also aware that the vitriol originates primarily from conservatives, but their inclination is to protect Republicans at all costs. The losers are the American people who do not follow politics closely and possibly have no idea that Palin and her cohorts encourage violence to change the government. The media is once again doing a disservice and not fulfilling their duty of disseminating information so the public can make informed decisions.

While I don't think this is politically intented, mainstream media thrives on a binary opposition model*. It's how they think they make money. It doesn't matter if one side is absolutely idiotic (or worse). Yet this system breaks down once one major political party becomes utterly unhinged or shameless in its fearmongering (Got Death Panels?).

But you won't see this mentioned in the mainstream media: it's bad for business.

*I don't think the 'Crossfire' format actually is the desired format by most media consumers. But producers of media think it is, and, given that most people can't build their own TV channel, we are unfortunately stuck with it.

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I think that NPR's "Left-Right-Center" is a much better way of raising the discourse.

NPR is just as bad as the rest when it comes to giving a voice to the liars on the right. They have serial liars on like Brooks and Frum as regulars and Norquist as a frequent commentator. Never mind that Frum is proven wrong over and over or that Norquist has publicly advocated destroying the American government, let them blather and never challenge their statements.

This is one huge reason I don't donate to NPR any more.

By Lynxreign (not verified) on 11 Jan 2011 #permalink

You position in this matter seems somewhat contradictory to me. What is the role of the media? One could say that it is to inform us of facts and discussions that are out there. Is it supposed to report only the âgoodâ side of the discussion? Think of climate change, for instance. True, one side seems to be utterly misinformed or be pushing a lie that serves their own interests but this is beside the point. The journalist should report that these ideas exist and that there are plenty people out there that believe them to be true. They should do it for several reasons: 1st) because it is true (these people do exist); 2nd) because it explains why initiatives to contain such a devastating trend are not moving anywhere fast and 3rd) because it gives the reader the opportunity (actually the need) to research further and form their opinions based on their own wits, rather than be told what to think by pundits (something you also seem to be bothered by). Should the media then report but take sides? I donât think so. The moment it does, it starts losing credibility with one segment of the public (do you watch Fox News?). Perhaps that is not the intention at first, but being progressively deserted by a section of the consumers, it will start pandering more and more to those who remain â and that is when a media outlet gets co-opted into a propaganda vehicle due to commercial considerations.
Thus, it is perhaps auspicious having the media report all sides of an issue. It does not give each one of them âlegitimacyâ, it just informs the public that they exist. If you want to know which side is right, you must do your homework â read, discuss, gauge whether there is a consensus in the scientific community, take a formal education on the subject, whatever works and fits the importance you give to knowing the truth about that subject.
I remember the first time I saw cheerleaders in an American sport event. I could not but ask: Do they need someone to tell them when to cheer? It doesnât take much analytical power to know whether your team did something right â stupidity is not the issue here, laziness is. The same goes for politics. People in the U.S. are becoming too lazy to think for themselves and a partisan media will only make things worse.


You should do some homework of your own, the media reporting "both sides" as though both have equal weight is a recent phenomenon in American media. Part of the media's job is to do some of that research for you. Responsible media doesn't "take sides" the way Fox "News" does, it reports and does fact checking to see what has credibility and what does not and it then reports those findings to its audience.

The media is what has become lazy and a large part of it is because of Fox's "balanced" mantra. Fox is anything but, but other news media has decided they have to present some sort of "balance" and that's just crap.

By lynxreign (not verified) on 12 Jan 2011 #permalink

It's really worse than even what you intimate. Often the "he said, she said" journalism isn't really even that.

As an example, let's say we're listening to debate on NPR about Afghanistan. Often, if not usually, the "right" side will be something like, "We need to soldier on and take out all the terrorists," and the (so-called) "left" side will be, "It's screwed up we need to do the war better." There is no, "We should just get the hell out," (to note, I'm not actually saying that is what we should do, I don't know what we should do, but what is clear is we aren't getting an actual full range of opinion).

In short it's not even a case of "yes" on one side and "no" on the other, but "yes" on one side and "yes, but do it better" on the other. There isn't really an alternate viewpoint.

But that is a general problem - I mean at best the "news" reports both sides as if they were sincere arguments, when the truth, ala Chomsky, is probably that all of the arguments are shams (per the video you recently linked to of Stewart on Crossfire).

@ Lynxreign: You bring up a few points that make me scratch my head. The media should not present all sides with balance? Right, thatâs what Fox News does. Fox is a good media vehicle then? Sure, they donât present a balanced take on things, but the views they advance will probably irk you (and the funny thing about it is that it does not automatically put them on the wrong side of every issue â even though they often are) .
So, whatâs it gonna be? All-sides-of-the-issue publications or Fox News style media? Deep down, when I read such condenations of the he-said she-said approach, I cannot but think that what the writer really means is that he wants a media that only reports the side of the story he supports (for he believes to be always right).
Informing and educating are two different things. Journalists are in a good position to inform, they are ill-equiped to educate. In most cases they donât have the expertise themselves. Again, if you want to form a valid opinion on a subject, you should not hope to become a dittohead (âplease tell me what to think and please pander to my ideological preferrencesâ). First you should become aware of all the ideas that are out there. Then, you should do some work yourself. Read the available sources, use what you know to help evaluate what you donât, study, consult experts, keep an open mind and (very important), after you have formed an opinion, be aware that even then you might not have got it right â it will give you a chance to continue learning.