Are Reporters Looking For Information… Or Ammunition?

from the more-the-latter,-it-seems dept

We recently noted that a tiny percentage of the news coverage about healthcare were actually about the healthcare system. Instead, most articles were about the politics and the protests. On top of that, we’ve noted the silly games used by cable news hosts to draw attention to stories when there isn’t anything behind them. Romenesko points us to a story, by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, that combines both of these things, talking about how journalism today often seems to mean the quest for ammunition, rather than the quest for information.

The article focuses on the news coverage of Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court — and how most of the news focused on two out-of-context quotes that Sotomayor made in addresses to college students years ago. Bowden does a decent job noting that much of the work that digs up these sorts of things is done by political operatives, not journalists, but he doesn’t do much to actually fault the mainstream press for making those hit pieces “the story.” Instead, he oddly talks up the fact that pretty much all of the news coverage (both cable and network news) focused on these same pieces dug up by bloggers, and then spends a lot of time suggesting that the problem here is the bloggers:

I would describe their approach as post-journalistic. It sees democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.

In this post-journalistic world, the model for all national debate becomes the trial, where adversaries face off, representing opposing points of view. We accept the harshness of this process because the consequences in a courtroom are so stark; trials are about assigning guilt or responsibility for harm. There is very little wiggle room in such a confrontation, very little room for compromise–only innocence or degrees of guilt or responsibility. But isn’t this model unduly harsh for political debate? Isn’t there, in fact, middle ground in most public disputes? Isn’t the art of politics finding that middle ground, weighing the public good against factional priorities? Without journalism, the public good is viewed only through a partisan lens, and politics becomes blood sport.

I agree with most of that last paragraph entirely — but it strikes me that this issue is seen much more commonly in the mainstream press than elsewhere. Elsewhere, I often find thoughtful discussions and debates and compromises. I see discussions aimed at getting to truth, rather than just “winning.” So why not explore where those conversations are happening, rather than complaining about the fact that it doesn’t seem to be happening in post-journalistic news? I would think that the missing piece to the article is that there’s a real void in the mainstream press coverage where reporters (bloggers or paid professionals) actually present things fairly and look for reasoned argument and facts — rather than hit pieces. Unfortunately, we’re not seeing that at all.

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Comments on “Are Reporters Looking For Information… Or Ammunition?”

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ChrisB (profile) says:

More Bias

I think there needs to be more “bias” in reporting. This fake impartiality results in reporters giving “equal time” to ridiculous positions (e.g., intelligent design) just to appear fair. Also, too much credibility is given to official government and corporate press releases (e.g., “It is our understanding that no civilians were hurt in the bombing, only armed terrorist.”) in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

That is why blogs are so useful. They add context and opinion to the content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: More Bias

“I think there needs to be more “bias” in reporting. This fake impartiality results in reporters giving “equal time” to ridiculous positions (e.g., intelligent design) just to appear fair.”

I dare you to debate intelligent design vs evolution at under science & origins. Heck, I’ll be there and bring any of your biology friends, I almost guarantee you will not be able to put up a decent argument against Intelligent design showing that unguided universal common descent is somehow more scientific.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Re: More Bias

“I almost guarantee you will not be able to put up a decent argument against Intelligent design showing that unguided universal common descent is somehow more scientific.”

Nice that you’ve figured out google alerts, but we’re talking about journalism. Go talk to the Jesuits if you want to reconcile science and faith.

NiallB says:

Re: More Bias

I agree with the sentiment of this statement.

I think it’s vital for a journalist to be able to provide SOME degree of context, but to openly state that’s the case- and at the same time offer something other than a simple opinion piece. There is no such thing as simple regurgitation of facts, every choice in language suggests some intention by the author, you can’t avoid it completely.

For a lot of people, the black and white is still synonymous with truth. However, the third wall applies in journalism too, and as each generation becomes savvier, we’re becoming better at peering over the wall.

To all journalists:
You are not just a fact reciting machine, don’t be afraid to apply a touch of your opinion and self, but at the same time don’t try to swindle us into thinking your opinion is fact

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: More Bias

“This fake impartiality results in reporters giving “equal time” to ridiculous positions (e.g., intelligent design) just to appear fair.”

How much time have you given to intelligent design or creationism? Could you even frame their argument in a way that their leaders would agree with, even if you don’t believe it yourself. If the answer is no, then how do you know it’s ridiculous? All you know is that it is unpopular.

You could spend a couple hours here researching it:

As it stands, you are EXACTLY proving what Mike is saying. You have ZERO desire to hear the other side out and instead of being impartial are coming off as an Evolution FANBOY determined (for whatever reason) to see his side win, without giving the other side a chance.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: More Bias

“Given my non-Christian beliefs, I will give Intelligent Design exactly as much time as most will give my beliefs: None. To a scientific mind such a postulation is utterly ridiculous.”

Ah, but there are portions of scientific thinking that a large majority of folks, including most scientists, would claim to be utterly ridiculous.

Now I’m no defender of religion, but it’s instructive to consider that much of the “science” of medieval times (no, not the restaurant, pun-masters) is today considered supersticious babble…but back then it was science. Isn’t it a tad arrogant to not allow for the possibility that our science will be viewed the same way 500 years from now?

I find it far more constructive to just admit what I happen to think everyone should: we don’t know, we’ll probably never know, and all of the talking and fighting we do over it is useless banter designed to distract us from the fact that most of us are rather unhappy with significant portions of our lives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: More Bias

“You could spend a couple hours here researching it:”

I took you up on your offer for fun and now I believe more than ever creationists are grasping for straws that aren’t even there.

Granted science is a belief system just like religion but it attempts to explain things through the scientific method. No this is not a matter of “faith” but reproducible experiments designed to explain a hypothesis.

Creationists try to prove nothing. They are not evolving based upon new revelations. They are not experimenting and debating the tenets of their belief system in an attempt to find truth. They are not seekers of knowledge because they already know the knowledge and the truth.

It is clearly ridiculous to debate creationism vs. evolution because they are incompatible at the core.

Thousands of years ago the Bible was just a collection of stories passed down from generation to generation. Then one day a man decided they were the inspired work of God and that we could live by their examples quite literally. Now a man wants me to believe these same collection of poorly translated thousand year old stories is actually a historical narration to the creation of the world and thus explains everything I need to know.

I am sorry if I am a bit skeptical…

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: More Bias

“Thousands of years ago the Bible was just a collection of stories passed down from generation to generation. Then one day a man decided they were the inspired work of God and that we could live by their examples quite literally. Now a man wants me to believe these same collection of poorly translated thousand year old stories is actually a historical narration to the creation of the world and thus explains everything I need to know.”

I don’t know if you’re just trying to keep things simple or not, but that is one of the single poorest explanations of how and why what is now the bible came into existence I’ve ever heard….and I was raised Catholic, where ignorance of the the very faith they practice is almost dogma.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 More Bias

“I don’t know if you’re just trying to keep things simple or not, but that is one of the single poorest explanations of how and why what is now the bible came into existence.”

Sorry, but it is the truth. At one time they were not even holy works. That idea came later and even later still that they were inspired by god (IE God wrote them through man’s hand) and that we could learn life lessons from them.

Simplification? Yes. I don’t know about poor since it summurizes the ridiculousness of the modern bible in a three sentence paragraph. I call that poetic.. lol

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More Bias

“Sorry, but it is the truth.”

Okay, I’m NOT defending the bible or religion here, but it’s an incomplete truth at best.

“At one time they were not even holy works.”

I don’t know what you mean by that. At one time they were certainly not all holy in the eyes of the Catholic or Christian denominational churches, but most if not all of the stories certainly WERE considered holy to one group or another. Most of the old testament books, for instance, are adopted versions of holy stories of various semetic tribes from Egypt to Sumaria. Many were what today are considered gnostic religions or faiths.

Take for instance the bright star guiding the wisemen in the new testament. That is an adopted version of the legend of the Shekinah, which is a rare occurrence when Mercury and Venus rise in the early morning sky together, creating a rather extremely bright star. Faiths from the Egyptian gnostics to the neolithic peoples of Scotland (I could go into the history of why they share belief structures, but it’s a long explanation) worshiped this appearence because it was seen as a blessing of the Gods Isis and Osiris, pagan gods. But because they were widely worshipped, the creators of Christianity included the story.

Not to mention the Christmas tree, another pagan symbol. Or holding the sabbath on SUNday, a throwback to popular belief that Osiris was the sun. Even December 25th was a solstice holiday. Those stories all come from somewhere, and were all holy to someone. Christianity adopted them to placate people.

“I don’t know about poor since it summurizes the ridiculousness of the modern bible in a three sentence paragraph.”

Poor only in so far as you left out the sigificant occurrence of the Council of Nicea. It isn’t that the bible is meaningless because it’s just randomly chosen stories that don’t mean much to the people who chose them. It’s that the bible was a very cafefully chosen set of stories, picked by powerful clerics of their time specifically to retain their POWER, not bring people closer to whatever God may or may not exist.

That modern Christians don’t understand that fundemental fact about the book they worship means they don’t understad their own faith…period.

TDR says:

Re: Re: Re:3 More Bias

Not really. You see, the Bible isn’t one book, but many. Sixty books, written over a period of 1500 years or so, yet all thematically consistent. It can be hard for those new to it to understand sometimes, admittedly, but it even says (in one of Paul’s letters, I don’t remember which), that the Bible is going to look foolish to those who don’t want to understand it.

Also keep in mind that the modern Bible is a translation. The original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek are often much more specific in what they mean than the English, because often in those languages, there are separate words for each meaning of a word in English. For example, “day” as used in Genesis. The original Hebrew word used in that passage isn’t the one that denotes a literal 24-hour period, but rather a word used to indicate a long, unspecified period of time.

Another example is “heavens.” The Hebrew word for “heavens” used in early Genesis (shamayim) refers specifically to the astronomical heavens, the physical universe, whereas in most other places in the Old Testament, a different word for “heavens” is used to indicate particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

To learn more and to see how closely intertwined true Biblical Christianity and honest science really are, visit and read their many articles and faqs written by prominent astronomers, astrophysicists, microbiologists, and others. Reasons To Believe was founded by Dr. Hugh Ross, who has PhD’s in several of the above sciences and was a scientist before he was ever a Christian, hence why after-the-fact application of faith to science is a nonissue when the reverse is what actually happens.

Dr. Ross was originally actually trying to disprove the idea of religion, and read through every major holy book in the world to do so by comparing it to modern science. Every last one of them failed except for the Bible, which caught him by surprise. In some cases, the Bible is more statistically accurate that science. As an example, there is a greater probability that the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament were all true about Jesus than there is of a sudden reversal of the fourth law of thermodynamics.

What’s more interesting, though, is that RTB isn’t just about words. They have a solid, testable, and predictive creation model that has withstood every test put against it. And when I say predictive, I mean that it anticipates what discoveries will be made about science and the natural world and how they tie into Scripture based on what’s already come before and where it’s leading to.

So check them out – – and you may end up finding that there’s more to it than you think. But either way, you should think about this: if all your objections about the faith were to be answered and dealt with to your satisfaction, would you believe? If the answer is no, then your issue is not with facts or the lack of them, but something else.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 More Bias

“Sixty books, written over a period of 1500 years or so, yet all thematically consistent”

Excuse me, but I’m fairly versed in the bible and religious history from several angles, and the idea that the spectrum of works in the modern bible are thematically consistent in anything other than the broadest sense of the word is absolutely ridiculous. The beliefs set forth in the bible jump all over the place, from preaching everlasting peace to the bringing of the sword, it’s themes are plainly incosistent in detailed analysis. This isn’t to bash Christianity; ALL books of faith that were chosen by men of power are going to have incosistencies and/or hints of meddling that shine through.

“Also keep in mind that the modern Bible is a translation”

That is absolutely true, but it as often works against Christian themes and beliefs as in favor of it. For instance, if you ask the common Catholic or Christian what the word Messiah means, they’ll tell you “savior”, but at best that is incomplete. Savior is one of the postulated definitions of the word, but the more commonly accepted definition by Semetic scholars is “Warrior-King”. Until Paul had his visions some 100 years or so after Christ’s death, again depending on translation, Christ was not thought of as having died for our sins. He was supposed to WIN, to vanquis the Romans and return the holy land to the Jews, a Semetic tribe.

The point is that translation issues are largely a non-starter, as there are mistranslations that benefit both sides of the argument.

“They have a solid, testable, and predictive creation model that has withstood every test put against it.”

Okay, theories on both sides are valid, but any theory that incoporates faith as part of it’s construct is inherently non-disprovable. Same if your theory includes any type of mysticism or supernatural component. Again, this isn’t meant to shit on Christian theory, but too many times there are people of faith who, when confronted with true data, facts, and/or history will simply throw up their hands and say “well, it’s my FAITH”, or “it can happen beacuse God can do anything”. To say such things is to stop actively learning about and engaging in the faith of choice, and is in fact to have no faith at all, but simply the wish to turn off one’s brain.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the underlying assumption is that given a free market where everyone can write blogs and be a journalist, the people are somehow unable to decide what constitutes news and what constitutes pro partisan battles and bias and that it’s the elite journalists that are somehow superior in determining such issues and the ignorant people that are supposed to succumb to whatever the elite mainstream journalists claim is unbiased.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Basically, in the free marketplace of ideas anyone can submit ideas and others will naturally choose the most reliable blogs that presents issues fairly and factually. To say otherwise is to assume that some group of elite people, journalists, are somehow superior with respect to being unbiased than everyone else and that this elite group of people is somehow better at choosing for us what we want to discuss and from what viewpoint and what topics not to discuss because those viewpoints are bias, etc… and I say nonsense. The free marketplace of ideas where anyone can start a blog and talk about whatever the heck they want and anyone else can read the blog and comment and choose what blog they want to read and comment on and switch blogs if they don’t like a blog is the best way for people to get a less biased perspective of the world, rather than just leaving it up to a group of elitists (ie: professional or mainstream journalists) to dictate to us what they believe constitutes an unbiased perspective of the world.

Reed (profile) says:

Welcome to the club

I love Techdirt, but this whole Journalism is dead is an old idea. Not that I am saying it is not important to bring it up, rather just old news in my book.

Journalists have been writing about the decline in reporting for a hundred years, but one could argue that news throughout time has been little more than spun propaganda.

As Edward Murrow put it

A solution to this would be simply to allow reporters to write and say what they actually thought. What a revolution that would be…lol says:

it's CHEAPER to report the rhetoric

If you look at newsrooms today, they don’t have the budgets to report on the meat of the story. It is easier & cheaper to watch C-SPAN and white house pool feeds and report on the “He said, she saids”.

It’s a huge disservice to the electorate (and allows sound bite savy politicos to game the media), but apparently there is little revenue model to support the kind of journalism we all want.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

There is no

“Today i read on Yahoo news how obama’s speech was short on details, and today’s new york times said Obama’s speech was chocked full of details.”

Amazing, isn’t it? That’s why I don’t even bother listening to a politician when they’re speaking, other than to try and find out how many times I can prove they’re lyig or being deceitful. Whichever one lies the least gets my vote, even if they are running on the “Inject little kittens with heroin to please the rain God Jobu (hats for bats!) to help local farmers” platform.

It’s amazing how republicans and democrats can just plain have two separate set of facts, and both talk out of the corners of their mouths with a straight face.

Is the economy growing or shrinking?

R: Shrinking! Obama has murdered American prosperity!

D: Growing! Thank God for Obama’s stimulus package. The Republicans are trying to murder American Prosperity.

R: Look at these stats! They say poverty is here!

D: But my stats say that we’ve never been richer!

DH: I’d like to see both of you in my quarters immediately for a game I like to call hide the red hot poker….

TDR says:

Why don’t you go visit for yourself before dismissing it, DH?

Now, granted, there are more than a few apparent paradoxes to be found in what the Bible says, but how deeply have you ever looked into them? Or is it as I’ve said above, that your issue doesn’t lie with facts, but elsewhere?

Christ is both Savior and Warrior-King. You forget that his first coming, he was intended to do as he did, die on the cross and be resurrected three days later. In his second coming, he will no longer be the suffering servant, for he has completed that task. He will come fully revealed in his glory as the Son of God, with the armies of heaven behind him, at the end of the tribulation to overcome antichrist.

Many common objections are answered at, and when I say they have a testable model, I mean by science as well as by faith. And as I said, it is also predictive. I don’t have time to go into details because I’m at work, but they explain it all there. They make no claims that science cannot support, and every claim is explained and not just given the “because” excuse you seem to think exists.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Why don’t you go visit for yourself before dismissing it, DH?”

I didn’t dismiss it. I don’t think I even addressed, namely because I can’t access it at work. It’s blocked as being in the category Fanatacism…j/k, religion.

“Now, granted, there are more than a few apparent paradoxes to be found in what the Bible says, but how deeply have you ever looked into them?”

…er, very. Between college courses to the 200 level on religious studies, family in the priesthood, and my own interest in both traditional and occult religious history…well, I’ve done a fair amount of homework. I’m by no means a scholar, but I’m able to talk about my interests intelligently. Or didn’t I make THAT clear, either?

“Christ is both Savior and Warrior-King.”

Yes, that’s what I said, that is the postulation today. However, the evidence suggests that the “savior” definition was added later, and that the followers of Christ thought that his journey to Juruselem upon the ass, which specifically and probably purposefully fufilled a prophecy by David that his ancesstor would RESTORE the promised land, NOT save souls, would end in a victorious uprising.

TDR says:

No, it’s right there in the original text of the Bible. He was always the Savior. There are over 200 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, all of which he fulfills.

What you think he was suppposed to do (because you read the Biblical passages too literally, if at all) is what the Jews of his day and even his own apostles thought, before his death and resurrection. And you forget, every one of his apostles except John was martyred later on. You don’t die for a mistake or a lie. You also got wrong that Paul lived 100 years after Jesus, when his own letters as well as extrabiblical evidence proves he was a contemporary of Peter and the apostles after originally being a persecutor.

Tell me, of all those courses and studies, did any of them ever allow for the possibility that Jesus was exactly who he said he was? Or were they all secular based and secular funded? Because that’s hardly an unbiased approach.

Again, you avoid the question I ask you. If all of your objections were answered and addressed to your satisfaction, would you then believe? If not, then facts or the perceived lack of them are not your issue.

Here’s another example of Biblical continuity. I’m sure you’re aware of the story in Exodus of God speaking to Moses from the burning bush. When Moses asks who he is, what he is called, God says “I am what I am.” “I am” became a special name for God amongst the Jews.

Now, fast forward to the gospels, when the Pharisees are confronting Jesus after he refuses to condemn the woman accused of adultery. When the Pharisees claim to be descended from Abraham, Jesus tells them that “before Abraham was, I am!” and after that, they try to stone him, but he leaves. When he said “I am” he was specifically equating himself to God, saying he was the same God that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. The original Hebrew used in both the Exodus passage and that part of the gospels for “I am” are identical.

Also, I’m wondering, did your studies ever point out that God is transcendent, meaning beyond all time, matter, space, and energy? That he exists beyond our four dimensions of space-time? He is everywhen as well as everywhere. We are limited to a fixed point in time moving in one direction only, but he is not. He is in every moment simultaneously. He has no past or future, no beginning or end. He simply is.

The cosmological constant, the big bang, and general relativity – all exhaustively tested principles in science – state that all time, matter, space, and energy originated in a single fixed point, a singularity. And that those four things actually were brought into the universe from outside of it, which makes perfect sense. In essence, the big bang was an explosion, and the cause of an explosion is never what is exploding, but rather, an outside factor (be it pressure, temperature, impact, or whatever).

Thusly, what lit the fuse for the big bang, as it were, came from outside the universe. And the Bible says all of this as well. I don’t remember all the passages offhand, but has many articles with all the details and specifics, much more than you might think possible. Every day they post a new reason to believe, backed by both science and the faith.

Another thing about the universe’s origin is that it likely began with 10 space-time dimensions. God exists in at least 11 dimensions, and what’s impossible in 4 dimensions – such as listening to billions of prayers at once – is quite possible for a God existing in more than those dimensions. It’s sort of like the way a subatomic particle can be measured to be in two locations at the same time, or even moving at two different velocities at the same time. A rough analogy, admittedly, but it does help illustrate things a little, I think.

Check out the site once you get home, if you haven’t already. What you find might surprise you.

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