My take on the NYT 'Truth Vigilantes' question
Perhaps you heard about the flap over public editor Arthur Brisbane's question, "Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?"
He was asking whether the Times should correct 'facts' that newsmakers throw out and reporters quote widely such as a Supreme Court spokeswoman who said Clarence Thomas had "misunderstood" a financial disclosure form and candidate Mitt Romney saying President Obama has made speeches "apologizing for America."
Readers responded with an aghast and outraged "yes." Brisbane feigned surprise at the outcry in a subsequent post. This is what I wrote in a comment on that update:
Ignoring readers' pique at what-you-meant-when, this post contains terrific examples of what could be considered a complex journalistic problem. Nevertheless, my answer is a slam dunk, "Yes! Do check and correct the 'facts!'"
As a journalist myself, I lament our profession's decades-long somnolence as members of the political and business class employ ever more crafty polemical and propaganda techniques to sway public opinion.
What began in the Reagan era as an effort to marginalize the fourth estate has developed into a rich industry, where polling and sociology is combined with public relations savvy to turn falsehoods into facts.
"Death panels," "climate change," "traitor" and "organic" are but tightly-packed atoms of this insidious effort, which has wheedled its way into our public discourse and now, called us even to question ourselves.
In the face of reckless attacks on our credibility and mission, journalists have retreated into a defensive, hide-bound embrace of "objectivity" at the expense of authority and truth. We've gazed at our collective navels, wondering, "who are we to question?" and "don't they have a right to respond?" rather than striking back with what should be our unassailable weapon: Seek truth and report it.