“I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”—
That’s what Obama said about CNN at last night’s White House Correspondents Association dinner.
Let me explain why that is such a great line. CNN sees itself as “in the middle” between left and right, MSNBC and Fox. Just recently, in fact, CNN president Jeff Zucker praised the middle as the place to be. But CNN also sees itself as a great newsgathering organization that is all about truthtelling rather than ideology. “Keeping them honest,” as Anderson Cooper, face of the brand, likes to say.
Put them together and what do you have? Keep ‘em honest, but stay in the middle. Which doesn’t work. For what happens when one side is BS-ing us more than the other? What happens when independent and honest reporting shows that these people on this side are mostly right in what they’re saying, and those people on that side are distorting the case?
CNN wants to believe, tries to believe and I think does believe that this problem does not exist. Therefore we have to remind them about it, because it does exist. And that’s what Obama did: “cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate” is saying to CNN: Accuracy and truthtelling will be sacrificed to your ideology— the middle, no matter what it takes.
You've heard of the fact check, right? Meet the fact chuck.
People who follow political coverage know about the tradition of the fact check. That’s when a political figure makes a dubious claim and pro journalists dig into it, trying to determine if it can be rated true, false, half true, etc.
But there’s also the fact chuck. Yes. That’s when a political figure makes a dubious claim and the journalists look at it, shrug, and find other people who claim the opposite is true. (Because that’s being fair, right?) Then they chuck the whole problem at us, as if to say: We have no idea who’s right, but here’s what they’re saying. We can’t figure it out, maybe you can!
Investigators for an Arizona sheriff’s volunteer posse have declared that President Barack Obama’s birth certificate is definitely fraudulent.
Members of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s posse said in March that there was probable cause that Obama’s long-form birth certificate released by the White House in April 2011 was a computer-generated forgery.
Now, Arpaio says investigators are positive it’s fraudulent.
So that happened. Then the AP found people who are equally positive that the “fraudulent!” charges are fraudulent:
"President Obama was born in Honolulu and his birth certificate is valid," Joshua A. Wisch, a special assistant to Hawaii’s attorney general, said in a statement. "Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed, and misconstrue Hawaii law."
Wisch also said that “not only are Hawaii’s vital records some of the best managed, but they also have some of the strongest restrictions on access to prevent identity theft and fraud.”
See? We’re nice and balanced. So it’s time for the chuck!
Obama released a copy of his long-form birth certificate in an attempt to quell citizenship questions.
Courts have rebuffed lawsuits over the issue.
End of story. Thanks, AP. Now we know that some people are positive the birth certificate is a total fraud, and other people are positive it’s totally not. And this is AP journalism: in July, 2012. We have no idea who’s right. You figure it out!
Now that you have seen the fact chuck demonstrated, won’t you bring other examples to my attention? Much obliged.
Mr. Rosen: Listening TAL's retraction episode I had the increasing feeling that this was a big show to exonerate This American Life and vilify a person who after all, is not responsible for the fact that This American Life did not do its due diligence when conducting the fact checking for this story. Do you think that all the praise directed at TAL for their handling of this situation can result in them not being held accountable for the simple fact that they messed up?
We retract that episode. We apologize to our listeners. By not trying to contact the translator, we screwed up. We should have killed the story. It should never have aired.
How much more accountability do you want? (Background.)
I don’t think the emphasis on Daisey’s lies is misplaced. I don’t think This American Life is evading accountability. However, there is one way in which I lean in your direction.
This American Life is about stories. No word is more basic to the show than that… “story.” You could almost say that the show fetishizes the “story” as object. I think Ira Glass could have dug a little deeper into why he and his team made that fatal error and broadcast the segment even though they could not fully check it with the translator. They could have adopted as a working hypothesis that such an error was years in the making, not an isolated slip-up but something that cut deeper. If they had done that, they might have begun to question whether it is possible to fall too deeply in love with “stories” and their magical effects; whether that kind of love erodes skepticism, even when you are telling yourself to be skeptical; whether Ira and his colleagues in some way wanted Daisey’s stories to be 100 percent true, whether this wish interfered with their judgment, whether there isn’t something just a little too cultish about the cult of “the story” on This American Life.
They did not go there. But they could have. And maybe they should have.
I cannot recommend highly enough episode 460 of This American Life, in which Ira Glass and crew have to retract and apologize for an earlier show based on Mike Daisey’s one-man stage play, ”The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The facts you need to understand the new episode, simply called Retraction, are in this New York Times story.
Daisey’s play is about terrible working conditions in Apple factories in China. It became a hit, raising awareness of the issue and adding pressure on Apple to improve those conditions. But it was based on a lie: that Daisey had himself witnesssed what he presented as the record of his experiences in China. In many cases he had not. And he lied to the producers of This American Life when they tried to fact check his performance before putting excerpts of it into their show.
All of this becomes clear in Retraction, which is an extraordinary display of transparency in corrective journalism. (So listen! It’s an hour.) Daisey is interviewed for the show about his deceptions. He tells Ira Glass that he always feared this day would come. Well, it came. And when he was asked to go on This American Life to account for his lies, he had only two choices. Sane choices, I mean.
Choice One: To agree to be interviewed and prepare to be stripped naked, on air, as a kind of cleansing act. You are revealed to millions of people as a bald-faced liar and a cheat about the things you care about the most, but by being ruthlessly honest and unsentimental with yourself, you stand a chance of coming out of it with at least some dignity. But if you cannot go through with that, there’s…
Choice Two: Don’t go on the air. Let them talk about you and send a note with your regrets.
There is no choice three.
But Daisey took door number three, anyway. That’s the one where you say to yourself…
I’m a master manipulator with nerves of steel. I can talk my way out of this, out of anything. This is just another performance! And I am one of the great performers out there. Of course I will have to concede ground, and that’s going to be embarrassing and painful, but I can also gain ground by winning people over to the greater truth beneath my deceptions. Which is… I really care about this! Through the magic of theatre, I made audiences—big audiences, who love me—care! Now they care about something they damn well should care about! Ira Glass couldn’t do that. I did. The New York Times wouldn’t do that. I would. Me and the magic of theatre, which is my love. I didn’t betray my love. I betrayed his love, Ira’s, and, yeah, that was wrong, but beyond that he has nothing on me. For I am a master manipulator with nerves of steel…
What you hear in the show is this very performance coming completely apart— before your ears, as it were. Ira Glass picks up on it right away. He realizes what Daisey came into the studio to do. And he permits a monstrously over-confident man to audibly disassemble himself. (Transcript.)
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.
The post doesn’t have a title. I suggest: Fuck it. I take door number three.
Your clearly show journalism disrupted by a changing world and journalists inventing very new versions of their work for a new time. Just as clearly, you and others show active citizenship changing, too, driving other changes and responding to change. But the university seems to be getting off without much disruption to its familiar ways. Aren't the social disruptions you study going to demand something of the university sometime soon? Can it make knowledge within its walled garden forever?
Yes, I think it’s coming. It’s happening at the lower end already. This is one reason I do so much of my “teaching” in public and for free, as with my Twitter feed and blogging, which I think of as a kind of journalism education. That’s not enough, but it is preparation for what’s ahead. Here’s someone whose experiments I am following closely.