Friday, October 22, 2004

Fairness Doctrine: Equal Time to Truth and Lies

As usual The Daily Howler has done a good job of picking apart the media's inanity.

"Is it normal journalistic practice to do what [Jodi] Wilgoren does—to repeat a factually false bit of mockery by a candidate (Cheney) before mentioning, in passing, that the statement is false? Wilgoren devotes a full paragraph to Cheney’s mocking statement, then spends only half a sentence noting that his statement was bogus—invented, false, made up. Meanwhile, what turns Dana Reeve’s appearance into just “another photo-op?” Surely, everyone understands what that phrase connotes. But Reeve endorsed Kerry for a perfectly valid reason—so what led Wilgoren to pre-trash her appearance? And do we ever see such groaning work anywhere else but the Times?"
This is one reason why it amuses and frustrates me when The New York Times is attacked by people (like Mark Hyman) as an example of liberal media. If this is the best liberals can do, then the Republicans should keep their mouths shut and let liberals shoot themselves in the foot.

I wouldn't be as bothered by this if it was also prevalent in television news. The standard for balance - the standard for what is News - is so low on both cable and network news shows that labels of "conservative" or "liberal" should simply be replaced with "lazy" or "irresponsible."

This type of dubious news is dealt with in the recent Harper's piece Our Friend the Smear: Notes on the origin of specious.
I believe that the conservatives can manipulate the media so well, not because it has some kind of corporate control - though this is certainly a reasonable idea - but because The Media is lazy and Republicans produce better talking points (black-and-white, no nuance, etc.).
"Once a smear has been accepted into the ecosystem, journalists can simply report on the dispute; e.g., the ad was a 'hot potato,' 'very controversial.' This approach allows the smear to grow quickly: if the story is the controversy, then reporters must adopt a mechanical evenhandedness, by which lies and truth are granted equal time.
. . .
Once a smear has survived a few weeks, it can begin to subsist as the basis for itself. The classic indication that a smear has reached this stage is when a candidate is 'dogged by a story that will not go away.'"
The example used in this article is the SBVFT ad campaign. But the same formula can be applied to smaller "news" stories, which are given credence simply because someone (Fox news anchors? NY Times reporters?) reported them somewhere (Fox News Channel? NY Times?).

I am trying not to believe that "victory on Nov. 2 will almost certainly belong to the side that propagates the most effective smear."