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Monday, October 08, 2012

One and Done

I don't have much to say, just sitting here wondering why I let the election coverage, particularly on TV, drive me so crazy. One thing that really bothers me is to watch a guest lie outright -- these are cases where the facts are not in doubt -- and then see the guest invited back again and again just because he or she is entertaining and attracts viewers. The rule should be lie once, and you are done (if we don't book the entertaining liars, someone else will!). And "I didn't know" -- the convenient ignorance of the facts that allows false statements -- is no excuse. They are coming on the shows as experts and ought to know when the facts are in obvious disagreement with their claims.

And the eruption on Friday over the employment numbers, and the reporting that actually allowed there to be some doubt about whether manipulation of the report could occur, should have been embarrassing:

Enabling the jobs report conspiracy theory, by Brendan Nyhan: Media ethics pop quiz: When conspiracy theories started circulating on Twitter claiming that Friday’s jobs report had been politically manipulated, what should reporters have done?
(a) Avoid covering a baseless and unsubstantiated charge and focus instead on the mainstream debate over the meaning and significance of the jobs report.
(b) Carefully cover the conspiracy theory as news, making clear that no credible evidence exists to support the claim.
(c) Write up “he said,” “she said” news reports that treat the conspiracy theory as a matter of partisan dispute.
One can make a reasonable case for either (a) or (b), but several outlets chose (c) instead, writing up the charges in a format that is likely to help spread the myth and encourage more like it in the future. With incentives like these, should we be surprised that politicians and commentators keep making false claims? ...
The most significant damage was done ... when the meme jumped to mainstream news coverage and was treated credulously by reporters and commentators, who often framed it as a plausible contention that was in dispute between the parties. In particular, the lede to an appalling ABCNews.com story by Abby Ellin appeared to give credence to Welch’s claim. Ellin stated that the surprisingly large decrease in unemployment “has raised suspicions that the White House might be cooking the books ahead of the election” and then spent five additional paragraphs detailing the charges before bothering to start refuting the claim in the seventh paragraph...
Another ABCNews.com story described the report as an “October surprise” —a term that usually connotes pre-election dirty tricks—and failed to directly refute claims it briefly described as “conspiracy theories,” while a Reuters report framed the dispute as a “he said,” “she said” dispute between Welch and his critics, even giving him the last word. ...
Reporters shouldn’t be expected to avoid covering controversial claims in the news, but they can exercise judgment in the way they report on those claims. In doing so, the media can weaken the incentives for political elites to promote misinformation...

I don't have any grand points to make about this, no novel solutions to suggest, just frustration. I suppose I should take into account whether the generated controversy over the employment numbers actually helped the right, and I'm not sure it did. It gave the true believers -- the truthers of one form or another -- some red meat to chew on, but for reasonable, undecided voters it may have simply looked like one more example of the right becoming unhinged. After doing so much to overcome the perception of extremism by moving to the middle during the debate, the Romney camp may not have been very happy with that development.

But whether it helped, hurt, or didn't much matter, the news agencies still ought to be embarrassed that a claim with no evidence whatsoever backing it up -- just something some clown said on Twitter -- could end up being treated and reported on as if it is a question with some merit.

    Posted by on Monday, October 8, 2012 at 11:41 AM in Economics, Politics, Press | Permalink  Comments (39)


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