People are flipping out about this NYT Public Editor article, headlined: “Should The Times Be A Truth Vigilante?”
First of all, I would like to ask what idiot thought that would be a good headline. It is a terrifically bad headline because a) it’s a stupid question and b) it’s not really what the article is about.
The article is really about how to handle situations where politicians spin or lie. Brisbane gives the example of Clarence Thomas saying he misunderstood a particular financial disclosure form, and therefore didn’t report his earnings. The form, however, was extremely clear, and it seems very unlikely Thomas misunderstood. He probably just chose not to report it. Another example is Romney saying Obama apologizes for America. Obama has never used the word apology in any speech ever, but there is nonetheless a certain segment of the population who thinks anything less than a full-throated endorsement of America in every situation and a deeply held belief that America is the BEST COUNTRY IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE AND ALL FOUR DIMENSIONS constitutes an apology.
Brisbane is asking if the NYT should say something along the lines of, “Thomas claims he misunderstood the form. The form, however, is extremely easy to understand, and it is far more likely that Thomas simply chose not to report unfavorable information,” and, “President Obama has never apologized for the United States.”
News organizations have a much more difficult with this kind of fact-check than the kind of, “How much money will X’s budget save?” fact-check. The latter involve hard numbers. The former do not. News organizations are afraid of being accused of bias, so they cling to what Jay Rosen calls the View From Nowhere.
The NYT would much rather take the position that there are multiple valid viewpoints, and all the NYT does is tell you all of them and let you decide. Problematically for the NYT, however, sometimes reality has a well-known liberal bias. Sometimes, there aren’t two valid viewpoints. Sometimes, you can’t say, “Romney says Obama apologizes for U.S. Obama says he doesn’t apologize. Here are all of Obama’s speeches.” Sometimes you have to say, “Romney says Obama apologizes for the U.S. That is not true.”
Welcome to the View From Somewhere, NYT. Jay Rosen would like a thank-you note at your earliest convenience and an apology for ignoring what he’s been saying since 2003.
Every year the NYT does a look back at notable people who died the previous year. This time around, NYT asked the This American Life team to guest edit an edition of the NYT Magazine for their look-back at obits. This American Life did what they do on their radio show - went and found a dozen or so interesting stories of totally regular people who died this past year. Pretty cool look at “These American Lives.”