If You're A Journalist Who Thinks That Pointing Out Lies Shows Bias, You're Not A Journalist

from the you're-a-pr-person dept

For years, we’ve pointed out the ridiculousness of “the view from nowhere” reporting (a phrase coined by journalism professor Jay Rosen). This is the ridiculous belief that being an “objective” journalist means never challenging what someone says to you, but rather just showing “both sides of the story” and not “taking” any side. But, that’s ridiculous. If someone claims that the earth is flat, and you do a story showing the person claiming that, alongside someone else saying it’s not, but never point out that the person saying the earth is flat is crazy, then you’re not doing your job as a journalist. A journalist should be focusing on getting to the truth, and that means calling bullshit when warranted.

This issue has come up again this week, thanks to NBC talking head Matt Lauer’s inability to challenge Donald Trump’s blatantly false statement that he was against the war in Iraq. Trump has been saying this throughout the campaign, and it’s simply not true. What’s more, plenty of journalists have pointed out that it’s not true, and any journalist interviewing the candidate, as Matt Lauer did, should have known that and should have pushed back. But Lauer did not, leading to widespread criticism.

What’s perhaps even more astounding, however, is that some TV journalists jumped in to defend Lauer, insisting that doing actual fact checking on lies is showing bias:

Political talk-show host Chris Matthews, for example, said after the event that if Lauer had called Trump out for lying, that would be equivalent to expressing an opinion, and moderators are supposed to be neutral.

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who is going to be moderating one of the debates between Trump and Clinton, said something similar in an interview. Wallace said it?s not his job to question the factual accuracy of a candidate?s statement during such an event.

?I do not believe it?s my job to be a truth squad,? Wallace said. ?It?s up to the other person to catch them on that.?

If that’s what they think, then they should all find new jobs. Because they’re not journalists. The finding of truth is important, and calling out a candidate (or others in power) for false statements when they make them is part of that important role. It’s not “biased” to seek the truth. It’s not “biased” to call a false statement a false statement. It’s the job of a journalist.

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Comments on “If You're A Journalist Who Thinks That Pointing Out Lies Shows Bias, You're Not A Journalist”

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Skeeter says:

Re: Wait, I'm confused

I agree on Lauer. It’s like saying that Mike Mesnick (this article’s writer) is being fair about ‘a view from nowhere’ reporting.

In reality, ‘a view from nowhere’ reporting spins platform and social engineering into otherwise-unbiased reporting, so that you end up where we are now, MSNBC vs FOX. We laugh about it, we joke about it, but in reality, it’s turned almost all ‘sources of news’ into picking the ‘more accountable National Enquirer’ to half-way listen to.

Now, for Mesnick, I ask: Do you see writers for the National Enquirer as ‘reporters’? If not, then why do you promote other news writers to become such ‘ambulance chasing trolls’?

Christenson says:

Techdirt is "BIASED"...

But not in a negative way….
BIASED towards the truth
BIASED towards justice
BIASED towards technology
BIASED towards a particular viewpoint
BIASED towards a modicum of brevity
BIASED away from an echo chamber

BIAS is inevitable in journalism, because someone has to decide what to publish, what to distill out of the mass of available data (did everyone *really* want to sit through days and days of Kim Dotcom’s appeal hearing in NZ?), and what facts to check…

Not that the “reporters” involved here haven’t earned the title “shill” or “papparazzi”!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Techdirt is "BIASED"...

Don’t worry, I’m biased too, I thought you were funny so I marked you as FUNNY, in fact I think everyone is funny haha Marked you all FUNNY!! HAHAHA see.. relax now.

The psychological test you finally graduated it.

Me too.. two years back, anyway

There’s no such thing as a Journalist, screw a stupid fucking journalist, who cares what you call them it’s a game they invented to spin your wheels and paint the ponies while you turn fucking grey. Stay tuned kiddies now, Up next, a fresh round of WORD NAZI..

There is only one TRUTH

truth doesn’t have a requirement to come from a journalist

You can have a WHOLE nation who is wrong when compared to one truth. The amount of fucking retarded people who believe Journalist speak truth is irrelevant. There’s still just one truth, I don’t give a fuck if it’s an army that says it’s a lie.

My point is quit worrying about the Word “Journalist” fuck a journalist. Consenting and Complying like Diane Feinstein (unregistered Foreign Agent of ISRAEL) suggests for Journalist should dis-qualify your retarded degree title.

example: Jo Smith – Executive Producer
changes to
Jo Smith – Retarded Jackass

Stay tuned next week for another game of SPELLING NAZI..

(sarc bro not an attack)

Anonymous Coward says:

If you think that's bad...

Try listening to the CBC. They inevitably present “both sides of the argument”, especially in complex multi-faceted issues where there are way more than two viewpoints. One of them will be a rational sounding, personable individual who espouses a viewpoint in harmony with the CBC viewpoint on the issue and the other will be a politically right of center nutjob who disagrees in some totally implausible fashion. This, in Canada, is what we call “objective reporting”.

BTW, I’m not saying all those right of center are nutjobs, just that the CBC will select one who is a nutjob.

Jon Renaut (profile) says:

Why jump on Lauer?

The thing I don’t get is why we’re all piling on Matt Lauer? As mentioned above, calling him a journalist is a stretch. And this is how all the media has been handling Trump. Just this week we’ve seen articles from both the NY Times and the Washington Post about how the media coverage of Trump is failing. This is nearly unfathomable since the Times and the Post are two of the largest media outlets in the country.

There’s no question that Lauer did a terrible job, but I don’t know how this was a surprise to anyone.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Why jump on Lauer?

  1. If he’s not a journalist, then he shouldn’t be moderating a panel that pretends to be journalism. If this is the equivalent of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on Arsenio Hall, then present it as such.

    2. Are you really suggesting that people should only criticize things that are surprising? It’s not surprising when my dog barks at the mailman, but I still tell her to cut it out.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why jump on Lauer?

The media coverage of Hillary is failing even more miserably. She has major failures, cover ups and lies in her time in office and the lamestream media doesn’t call her out on it. Of course that is because the lamestream media supports her candidacy.

Trump is an outsider and a psuedo conservative so they are attacking him like a pack of rabid dogs. In fact, even he couldn’t afford the kind of publicity they are giving him. Hillary is spending a fortune on attack ads and he is getting all kinds of free publicity.

HostsDontDoJournalism says:


Considering the backlash that PBS NewsHour Gwen Iffle received after doing just this, correcting a blatent falsehood as moderator, I can see how corporate owned media giants would caution their ‘hosts’ (not real journalists) from doing any commentary.

Besides, as a media giant, you want more eyeballs. That means after show hosts on all the cable ‘news’ outlets get something more to talk about. The daytime ‘hosts’ like Matt have more to talk about during their shows.

It’s profitable NOT to do journalism in this day and age.

Money is made through click-bait talking points created after the event and the judge by committee panels pushing their own talking points.

Paul L (user link) says:

Same stanrd for thise

Same standard for those who claim Trump called all Mexicans rapists.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Anonymous Coward says:

This is nonsense. If you had to call out every individual lie from everyone, there simply cannot be a debate. A moderator is not a journalist. The moderator’s primary job is to moderate a debate in which each candidate can point out the other candidate’s flaws. The moderator is not a fact checker nor a journalist. The moderator is needed to facilitate fairness in speaking time and to ensure each side is allowed to express major points. The liberal firestorm ignores the responsibility of the position and what needs to be the responsibility of a candidate to point out these issues. Clinton could take out her earpiece and react on her own once in a while..

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

If you had to call out every individual lie from everyone


there simply cannot be a debate.

This was not a debate.

The moderator is needed to facilitate fairness in speaking time and to ensure each side is allowed to express major points.

Which Lauer also failed to do.

Clinton could take out her earpiece and react on her own once in a while..

Who needs an earpiece when you can parrot whatever talking point you heard on Fox News this morning?

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Agree and disagree

First: It was an interview, not a debate. The candidates were not onstage at the same time.

Second: Yes, it’s the other candidate’s job to call BS…but it’s the other candidate’s job to call BS even if it’s not BS.

Candidates are biased. They’re supposed to be. When one of them says A and the other one says not-A, you can’t just assume that the person who “called BS” is telling the truth. There needs to be an impartial third party who will assert the truth or falsehood of a statement. You can’t, and shouldn’t, just trust one candidate over the other because they say so.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Agree and disagree

When Matt Lauer is moderating a debate, he is not being a journalist. He is a moderator and I agree that it isn’t his job to fact check or call BS. It is the opposing candidate’s job. If he is interviewing a candidate or reporting news, then it is his job.

This was an interview, not a debate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Agree and disagree

Why was it called a forum? The term forum connotates that the event was a debate of a certain format and not an interview. If it was an interview shouldn’t it be called Commander-in-Chief interview or segment (much like Barbara Walter’s hype on important people interviews)? This was a debate with a different format than what is traditional, but was a type of debate requiring nonpartisan moderation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Agree and disagree

Please. I knew in advance it was billed as a forum and in no way did it signal to me that it would be any sort of a debate between the two candidates. A forum in which one candidate is interviewed in front of an audience hardly strikes me as a debate in any stretch of the term. And, you’re really stretching it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Agree and disagree

This was an interview, not a debate.

Masnick light-bulbed this like that was his point all along, but he wasn’t only talking about Lauer’s show in the article. He brought up Matthews’ and Wallace’s comments regarding the proper role of a moderator at a debate, to which Masnick responded:

“If that’s what they think, then they should all find new jobs. Because they’re not journalists.”

Therefore, it’s perfectly appropriate to address the larger point of what a moderator should and shouldn’t be doing at debates even if this most recent show with Lauer wasn’t a debate. And David was absolutely right. The role of the moderator is to ask the questions and play referee, keeping each candidate to their allotted time, etc. Not to fact-check the answers and call out lies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Agree and disagree

Honestly, I was completely confused this whole time as well. There are strict rules from moderators or the chairman from actually calling fact from fiction in a real debate, though what US politics often calls a debate is questionable to say the least. They can ask a side to clarify a statement (Point of Information), but the question itself comes from the audience or the opposing speaker. Other than that, they can call a Point of Order for a side personally attacking the opposition.

In an interview, I would not only expect but demand that the journalist call out those being questioned on the truthfulness of their statements.

Thad (user link) says:

“I do not believe it’s my job to be a truth squad,” Wallace said. “It’s up to the other person to catch them on that.”

Okay, but what if they *lie*, Chris?

There was a debate in ’04 where John Kerry pointed out (accurately) that George Bush had said he didn’t think about Bin Laden that often. Bush got a look of incredulity on his face and claimed never to have said it. Even though Kerry was telling the truth and Bush was lying, it looked to the audience as if the opposite had happened.

Each candidate is biased on his or her own behalf. That’s the candidate’s job. The moderator’s job is to be impartial.

The audience shouldn’t trust either candidate; the audience needs a neutral third party who *is* trustworthy.

Which — snark about Fox News aside — is Chris Wallace’s job.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Okay, but what if they lie, Chris?

Then it’s the job of the other journalists after the debate to highlight the lies and provide the truth.

The moderator is just the moderator, not a journalist. Even if he/she is a journalist in their day job, when they’re acting as a moderator, they’re not journalists. They are two entirely different jobs.

UniKyrn (profile) says:

And can we stop with the “Truth” versus “False Statement” stuff? It’s either true or it’s a lie, whether it’s a deliberate lie or not. Calling it anything else is just playing word games.

“We checked and he was telling the Truth”

“We checked and he was making a False Statement” versus “We checked and he was Lying.”

Did somebody remove the word Liar from the dictionary?

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike is missing an important point here: the more power a controversial interviewee has (or is thought to have) the less critical a journalist will be. The converse also holds true.

Whenever these same journalists get some no-name nobody with similarly kooky ideas and provocative behavior as Trump, you can bet that they will tear them to shreads in an interview. Just look at the recent Nightline hitpiece on Trump supporter Milo Yiannopoulos that was an angry name-calling shoutdown.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh so TRUMP lied

What about Hillary’s assertion that I heard for the first time in this forum. That she used separate systems for classified information.

She never said that before and has in fact given testimony about not having a separate system for classified systems.

Or do only lies by the candidate for one particular party count.

Which is good for the democrats I suppose because Hillary seems incapable of telling the truth AT ALL.

The other interesting thing is that all the shit Hillary says doesn’t disqualify her from being president, but not knowing where Aleppo was Disqualifies Gary Johnson??!!!!

Double and triple standards are what is harming journalism, not not calling out lies…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh so TRUMP lied

Now you are being a bit unfair.

Hillary had classified material on her private server. That is a fact.
However, that is not a sign that she haven’t used a more appropriate channel for better marked classified material.

It doesn’t mean that she isn’t culpable. It just means that some people didn’t hear the “… Some are good people” in Trumps famous quote.

Johnson is not too well versed in laenderkunde questions. That media are “disqualifying” him as president for such a small detail is not fair to the less biased media.

JBDragon (profile) says:

Re: Oh so TRUMP lied

I’d like to point out that Hillary was FOR THE WAR before she was against the war!!! We already know what this lying sack of Clinton crap is about!!!!

I’m really not a fan of Trump, he’s far from a Republican, but then again there’s just so many RINO’s in office already. He’s going to say crazy things because it gets his name everywhere. Doesn’t matter if it’s negative. He’s no politician where you say a whole lot of nothing. That at least I find refreshing. As usual, being in CA, I didn’t vote for Trump and pick him as the Republican choice. Still, just about anyone is better the Clinton.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

This is what they're trained to do in j-school

Professional journalists are trained to worry about “fairness”, not truth. Reality, they are told, is socially constructed, and there is no such thing as objective truth.

Fairness means reporting “both sides” of a story even when there are 3 or 4 sides, or when it’s obvious who is lying and who isn’t.

If journalists were interested in truth, they wouldn’t pretend to be impartial (they’re human, of course they have opinions of their own). Instead they’d openly admit their viewpoint and let the reader judge their arguments.

There are still countless newspapers in the US with “Republican” or “Democrat” in their title. I suspect the relatively high esteem which journalists enjoy is a legacy from the era when these newspapers were founded.

Before the rise of “professional” journalism in the middle of the 20th century, truth was assumed to exist (even if it was difficult to find), and publishers were proud to announce their political allegiance.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: This is what they're trained to do in j-school

I had a really interesting conversation (at least his side of it was interesting to me; I was likely boring him to tears) online with a journalist about this. We were discussing (and I was complaining) how journalists say things like “Trump repeated a falsehood” instead of just outright saying “Trump lied.”

He argued that it is not proper for a reporter to say that someone “lied” (using that exact word), as it makes an assumption about motive, and that is more appropriately the role of the editorial page.

HOWEVER (and this is a crucial distinction that the “gotta show both sides equally” crowd has missed), this journalist was very clear that it is his job to point out when someone says something untrue. That’s not stating an opinion; that’s correcting something that is demonstrably false.

How to do this? A reporter can make any number of factual statements: “X said something untrue”, or “X is incorrect”, or “X is contradicting something he himself said 10 minutes ago”. But to say “X is a liar” moves from fact to assumption, as there’s always the alternative explanation that X is simply mistaken, or that X is delusional and genuinely believes what he’s saying. (Even though, let’s face it, we all know that X is a liar.)

It’s splitting hairs, I know, but he made an interesting argument.

Of course, all this only works if the voting public actually thinks truth matters. And I have my doubts about that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Journalism is dead

Apparently, Trump is such an existential threat to the universe, that it is OK to suspend all journalistic ethics. This is a very slippery slope, after which free speech itself goes out the window.

For the Fourth Estate to properly function, journalists have to trust their readers. If they don’t trust their readers, they need to find another line of work, because they then become just another shrill shreaking opinion adding to the din.


Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism

Jim Rutenberg


sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Journalism is dead

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. The author of that piece isn’t calling for abandoning journalistic ethics. He’s noting that in an election as unusual as this one, journalists must work harder to live up to the core principles of journalistic ethics — to seek truth and report it, and to hold those in power accountable.

From the article:

It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Journalism is dead

From the article:
“It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.”

Precisely. Since reporting on truth is what is lacking in journalism today, that is why journalism is dead.

Koby (profile) says:

How do you deal with moderator bias?

Moderator bias is a potential problem. We saw that in the last election’s debates where CNN’s Candy Crowley defended Obama’s response to the Benghazi attacks, and Mitt Romney totally broke down:


But it turns out Mitt Romney was actually correct, because the the UN Ambassador was actually brought out to the Sunday talk shows and DID blame the attack on an internet video:


And this story continued where the administration ultimately blamed the Benghazi attacks on an internet video for the next 2 weeks, and not that it was a coordinated terror attack. How do we deal with this bias? The job of the moderator is NOT to “fact check” or “take sides” on a debate. It is to get the opinions of the candidates. If one side or another has a problem with the candidate’s response to a question, then the candidates can rebut it. If the moderator has a problem with a candidate’s response, they can take issue with it afterwards. But definitely no “fact checking” during the debate, no matter how obvious you think it should be. Let the debaters debate.

Insurgence (profile) says:

I am not going to say Matt Lauer is not a reporter, but if as a moderator he does not want to correct the “debate” that is his choice. It has been talked about enough as it is and unless something new comes up, all he does is waste time by reiterating what has already been said, pretty much like everything that was said on there.

There is one plus side though, the less time they spend going back and forth over what is correct or incorrect, the more chances he gives people like Trump to stick a foot in their mouths again.

Shel10 (profile) says:

You are wrong!

A Journalist collects and presents facts, they are not supposed to inject personal thoughts. Writing that someone is crazy because they believe that the earth is flat is not the appropriate action of a Journalist. The Journalist may present facts on both sides of the issue. It’s up to the reader of the article to determine which side is correct based on the information in the article.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: You are wrong!

What you’re describing is not journalism but an almanac.
Journalism also includes analysis.

P.S. That the earth is not flat is fact. A journalist reporting on, say, the Moon orbiting the Earth, can if they like include someone claiming that the earth is flat. They should also point out that person is wrong. That is not a matter of opinion.

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: You are wrong!

Actually, I am describing the classic definition of a reporter’s (Journalist) job. Going beyond the facts is defined as editorializing, commentary, or opinion. What we have on the “News” Networks (Fox, CNN, etc.) are individuals (Wolf Blitzter; Giraldo; Megan Kelly) who claim to be reporting, but are in fact skewing the facts to present a personal point of view. If you are old enough to have seen the news broadcasters of 50 or 60 years ago, you would know the difference.

Christian Amanpour is a real Journalist who only injects personal opinion when asked. Don Lemon says he is a news reporter but is biased, and his presentation of facts are skewed to his personal beliefs.

Thad (user link) says:

Adding: To all the people saying “it’s the other candidate’s job to point out when a candidate lies” — when exactly was it Hillary Clinton’s job to do that? Trump went on second. There was no rebuttal period where she got to come back out and respond to the things he said.

Except, y’know, in the media, the next day. Which is what she did and what we’re talking about.

I’m not even a fan of Clinton. But it’s pretty obvious why the “it’s her job to point out falsehoods, not Lauer’s” argument is flawed.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Journalist or Moderator?

> If that’s what they think, then they should all find new jobs. Because
> they’re not journalists.

But when they’re moderating a debate, they’re not acting as journalists. Wallace is right– a debate moderator’s job is not to be a truth squad. The job of the moderator is to ask the questions and make sure the candidates follow the rules–, i.e., stick to the time allotted, respond only when allowed, etc.

Wallace is also right when he said that it’s each candidate’s job to expose their opponent’s lies, not the moderator’s.

Eldakka (profile) says:

There are many specific jobs/tasks that fall under the umbrella of journalism.

Like many professions, a simple descriptor like journalism or journalist is a high-level description of the types of task one may accomplish.

Like saying someone works in medicine – they could be a medical doctor, a surgeon, a specialist (brain surgeon, oncologist), a nurse, a chemist (pharmicist), and so on.

Therefore journalist covers several sub-type areas, who each have their function. And of course, the same person can be performing different aspects, or different roles (wearing different hats) depending on the circumstances (or their job at that particular point in time).

To me, the basic different roles covered under journalism are:
1) reporting (e.g. news reporter);
2) Investigative reporting;
3) Analyst.

== Reporter ==
A reporter is exactly that. They are reporting what is happening, the facts. They report what the police said, or witnesses, or what they saw, he said-she said, and so on.

This is what I expect from the nightly 6pm news shows. A recounting of the facts. I would not expect any personal opinions or analysis of what’s going on.

== Investigative Reporter ==
This is where we get into someone who ‘chases’ a particular in-depth story. They interview many people over a period of time, building up a major report. These are the types of situations where I’d expect fact checking, comparisons, calling people out on lies and so on. The ones getting in people’s faces to find out the ‘truth’.

== Analyst ==
Like the title says, analyse intelligence. Where in this case it’s getting the reports from reporters, and building up a bigger picture, tasking investigative reporters to root around for them and get them information. A “bigger picture” sort of person.

Different types of businesses undertake the different types of journalism. The nightly news is mostly just ‘reporting’. The current/breaking news in newspapers also.

The current affairs businesses (60 minutes, Foreign Correspondent, time magazine, wired, TechDirt, all these types of businesses) are of the investigative reporting/Analyst type businesses. Expose’s, and so on.

All of the above ARE journalism, they are just different aspects of it.

And the same person on different days could be undertaking different aspects. Someone could be known as a hard-hitting investigative reporter, but gets hired by a local TV station freelance to quickly grab a news report of a local event for that night’s nightly news.

Or they could be doing a completely different job. Say, as a moderator at a debate.

In general, a moderator at a debate is just a referee of the debate, to make sure the debaters stick to their time limits, to pass the questions around, and so on. It is not a moderators job, unless it has been explicitly listed as their job, to analyse, report on, the statements made by the debaters. They are not performing journalism, they are performing debate moderation, which is a different job.

Hiring a journalist to be a moderator at a debate is no different to hiring anyone else famous, a movie star, a sports star, local celebrity or what have you. The purpose is to make it look good by having someone famous in the mix. And for something like a debate, it just looks better if that famous person is a journalist or similar rather than a front-rower. It’s a publicity stunt.

If you wanted journalism, analytical/investigative-type journalism, you wouldn’t hold a debate. You’d hold a series of interviews.

Dork Angel (profile) says:

Moderate vs Interview

He wasn’t moderating, he was interviewing two candidates separately and asking them questions. They weren’t responding to the same questions or interacting with each other in any way. If you’re not going to challenge an answer that’s unclear or bollox then why have you there at all? You could be replaced with a empty chair and have the questions on a teleprompter.

Bruce C. says:

Here’s a question: when a journalist acts as a moderator in a debate, is their primary role as journalist or as moderator? I think some of Lauer’s defenders are just saying that it isn’t the role of a moderator to challenge a candidate’s statements. The other candidate should be perfectly capable of doing that for herself. On the other hand, a moderator should feel free to elicit a response from the other candidate as an indirect way of calling out obvious BS.

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