Thursday, December 14, 2006


Glenn Greenwald makes the excellent point that real reporters who really are fair and balanced, don't have to give equal time and weight to both sides of a controversy. It's perfectly appropriate for real reporters to report the fact that one side's arguments are supported by verifiable evidence while the other's is based on demonstrable lies. Sadly, it seems that these reporters will only dare to do this when the party without the facts is already very unpopular e.g. Holocaust deniers. Glenn also makes the point that this isn't a matter of being partisan (or "agin the gummint") but, rather, it's being skeptical and getting the facts straight.
That is what objective and meaningful reporting requires -- not merely uncritically conveying what statement a person makes, but scrutinizing that statement for accuracy and clearly reporting if it is false.


An adversarial process is designed to uncover deceit and falsehood by ensuring that claims and arguments are subjected to meaningful scrutiny by some opposing force. An adversarial press means that it views its function as a watchdog over the Government, as a check on its power. It fulfills that function by viewing Government statements and actions skeptically and with the intent to scrutinize them and determine their truth, rather than mindlessly convey what the Government asserts. It means that there is a difference between a free press and Pravda.


Such Government claims -- like Holocaust denial claims (but without equating them) -- are all examples of: (a) factually and verifiably false assertions by the Government (b) for which there is no reasonable basis, yet the media repeatedly recites these statements without pointing out the fact that they are false. Adversarial reporting would mean not that the media sides against the Government in every case, but only that they scrutinize and investigate the Government's claims and then clearly report when they are false. The only "agenda" being pursued is a refusal to allow the Government to mislead citizens.


And, via Capt in Comments, here is Justice Hugo Black's Concurring Opinion in New York Times v. U.S. (the Pentagon Papers case) (emphasis added):
In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.

The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.
There are some exceptions still, but that description of the core function to be performed by the press is indescribably distant from what the press actually does.


Blogger liberal journal man said...


7:27 PM  

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