Howard Kurtz’s column today contains a stunning admission — Journalists really don’t do journalism:
In the end, [healthcare reform] may simply have been too dense for the media to fully digest. If you’re a high-information person who routinely plows through 2,000-word newspaper articles, you had a reasonably good grasp of the arguments. For a busy electrician who plugs in and out of the news, the jousting and the jargon may have seemed bewildering.
Once the law takes effect — its provisions stretched out over years — perhaps journalists can help separate rhetoric from reality. That is, if we don’t lose interest and move to the next hot controversy.
Kurtz tries to save his fellow colleagues, by attempting to point out where they actually provided value:
One stellar moment for the press was the refusal to perpetuate the myth of “death panels.” After Sarah Palin floated the idea that government commissions would decide which ailing patients deserved to be saved, journalists at The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and ABC News, among others, said flatly that this was untrue.
But even this is a stretch. Oh, it’s true in the eyes of the news media, but that is because they have a warped sense of “journalism.”
In our corporate-funded news media system, providing “objective” news means bringing the two sides of a debate into a room and letting them have their say. In our media system, it is never the journalists job to actually state something is not true.
Take, for example, the above-mentioned healthcare debate. Here is the transcript from an August 2009 CNN news show, at the height of the Tea Party protests. Anchor John Roberts is “fact-checking” the claims of the Republicans:
ROBERTS: Well, here again tonight to help us fact-check some of what we’re hearing is Bill Adair. He’s the editor of PolitiFact.com, which earned a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation of hundreds of political claims during the 2008 campaign.
Bill, it’s great to see you tonight. You heard the president’s response to this idea of death panels. Sarah Palin has a new posting on her Facebook page where she claims it’s the president who’s wrong. Here’s what she says.
“With all due respect, it’s misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients.”
So, what do the Truth-O-Meter say about all this bill? Is the former governor correct or is she incorrect?
BILL ADAIR, EDITOR, POLITIFACT.COM: She is incorrect. We gave that a false on our Truth-O-Meter on PolitiFact.com.
Really when you look at the bill, when you look at the language, it is voluntary. There is nothing in the bill that says that it’s mandatory. There’s nothing that backs up this claim. Now, Palin makes the point, well, perhaps seniors could feel pressured to take this care. And perhaps that’s possible.
But as the language is written now, as we have discussed it with experts, it’s just not true to say that it’s not voluntary. It is voluntary. It’s an optional thing. So, she gets a false on our Truth-O-Meter.
ROBERTS: False on the mandatory death panel. All right, Bill, cleared that one up.
A CNN anchor would never come out and say something is not true; he relies on someone from “Politifact.com” to say it. He needs the Truth-O-Meter, instead of just speaking the truth.
More importantly, I am sure it would be easy enough to find a campaign contribution made by Bill Adair, or some other statement he has made, to discredit him with an accusation of “bias.” And this is not just Bill Adair, but it’s the hundreds of other pundits and interviewees that are used in the same way in similar stories all the time. This is why our news system does not work.
Until journalists start doing their job, until they stop relying on “experts” to provide the requisite two-sides-to-every-story, our politics will never be served by their existence.