Saturday, June 06, 2009

Giving Facts a Chance

That the press is talking about itself is not a bad thing, but bemusing. The costs of misinformation presented as fact are mounting.

Last night on Bill Moyers' Journal there was a very nice discussion about major press personnel who have blown it. The reporters are increasingly letting their 'sources' lie, and by airing the lie without the rebuttal are becoming part of that propaganda - as Moyers and his panelists last night pointed out, Bob Schieffer made the argument that nominated Justice Sotomayor is a racist by taking the accusation, then using it as an accepted basis for his next question:

BOB SCHIEFFER I want to get right to the quote that has caused all of the controversy that Washington has been talking about all week. What Justice, or Judge Sotomayor said in the speech eight years ago. And here it is. She said, "I would hope that a Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male, who hasn't lived that life." Senator Kyl, is that enough to keep her from being confirmed as a Justice on the Supreme Court?

BILL MOYERS: So, instead of deconstructing the quote, Bob plays the beltway card: is this going to cause her not to be confirmed?

JAY ROSEN: Well, first of all, Bob Schieffer forgot to ask himself whether the controversy that had gripped Washington was a legitimate controversy. And surely that's one thing we need him for.

BILL MOYERS: Who's to decide that? Legitimacy-


BILL MOYERS: -or illegitimacy?

JAY ROSEN: Well, Tom Goldstein, an author of the SCOTUSblog, which is a very carefully put together blog about the Supreme Court, and a law professor - looked at the record of Sotomayor's decisions. In 96 cases, where there were discrimination claims before the court, she decided against the claim of discrimination 78 times. And there were only about ten where she sided at all with a plaintiff charging discrimination.

Now, if you know that, if you know that record, then the whole controversy looks kind of fake from the beginning. And so, what Bob Schieffer did was take what Washington is buzzing about, refused to fact check it, take it as a given, and ask a kind of insider political question. "Is this going to sink her nomination?" Which is premature and which abandons his role as a journalist in determining what is a legitimate controversy. What should we be arguing about? Which views have standing as facts, as fact-based?

BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's disappointing to be sure. And I'm really sorry that that responsibility was abrogated. On the other hand, what this is a clear example of, and I hope I don't sound like a broken record at this point, is increasingly how the Washington punditocracy and those who preside over it, and the Republican Party are marginalizing themselves. By focusing on these people whose influence, whose direct influence seems to be, used to be broadly at the country at large. But if we are to believe the polls, and I guess that's a whole different show for you, it seems that the importance of Rush as a mover of opinion, not as a generator of audience, necessarily. But as a mover of opinion- and Newt Gingrich is diminishing. Fewer and fewer people are identifying themselves as Republican.

While Bill Moyers' panelist, Ms. Gladstone, came to a comforting conclusion, it's not enough to absolve members of the media from responsibility when they air, and accept, outright lies. The consequences of lies increasingly affects what is done, and what we suffer as a consequence. Affecting a solid nomination to the Supreme Court today, a few years ago an unjustifiable war, and last week a tragically wrongful death.

In the case of Bill O'Reilly (whom I have never watched except on clips presented outside his 'show'), we have a member of the press using his position to promote hatred among individuals whom he realizes are unbalanced enough to listen to this blatantly biased balderdash. His purposes may be more avaricious than merely vicious, but once again have resulted in the death of some one he directed his haters against. Dr. Tiller died not because of his faulty behavior, but because of O'Reilly's lies about him.

Words have consequences -- a lesson I've learned, and relearned, after nearly 20 years of editorial and column writing.

Which makes Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly all the more unbelievable when he holds himself harmless in creating the atmosphere that helped diminish the humanity of George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions.

O'Reilly used his show, "The O'Reilly Factor," to demonize Tiller.

A few of his words, as reported by Tiller "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birthdate for $5,000." Then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius "doesn't seem to be real upset about this guy operating a death mill, which is exactly what it is, in her state, does she?" And: "No question Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands."

The blame for Judge Sotomayor's being considered racist by extremists, as well as the blame for Dr. Tiller's death, lies with those who irresponsibly present lies, and do not present the mitigating truth. There are not two ways to regard promoting damaging misinformation, it is an attempt that is intended to have an effect. In the case of Bob Schieffer, he is attempting to destroy a nomination by bad information presented as if it were true. In the case of O'Reilly, he is attempting to destroy a person whose career refutes his ideology.

The press abrogated its role in the run-up to the war on Iraq, and should be replaced. The costs of willful errors is immense, and one that we can't afford.

The role of the press is not just a side effect. It has become a force of its own, and it will have to be displaced by the presenters of truth. That role has now fallen to the internets.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home