Truth Vigilanteism

The New York Times’ public editor has an earnest question to ask you:

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about…

…[for example,] on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

To me, getting to the truth of a matter asserted is part & parcel of a journalist’s job. Anything less is nothing more than mindless transcription of spin and press releases. It’s as if the Times is asking whether doctors should treat patients, or whether lawyers should represent clients.  For years, it’s been a given that the fourth estate acts as a BS detector for a populace seeking information. Enough with the phony “some say” strawman, enough with letting people get away with repetitive lying.

Should the New York Times, the paper of record, be a “truth vigilante”? It should never have been otherwise.


  • Dear Alan,

    Have a look at Glenn Greenwald’s column today–it’s probably S.E.T.R., and you’ll find that you agree with him about something.

    Oh, wait, I see you’ve already read it, and have included an “homage.” Yes, let’s call it “an homage.”

    GG: “That’s basically the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases, or asking in a law review article whether lawyers should defend the legal interests of their clients, etc.”

    AB: “It’s as if the Times is asking whether doctors should treat patients, or whether lawyers should represent clients.”

  • it seems like such a shocking question, as in “I am just shocked, shocked!”
    As we all know much news lacks analysis, and depends on the contexts proliferated by talking points press releases. Reporters are generally too inexperienced, too lazy, too rushed, or to embedded with the subject matter to make critical judgements. Same with many or most assignment editors. This crosses all media. Media is designed to create audiences, raise revenue, not educate or inform. (Artvoice pundits, writers and editors excluded of course) The propagandists with the talking points know that media is about social engineering. Reader beware, most news reports will not provide anything near truth, analysis, or critical thinking- and pundits and editorialists are giving opinions, subjective opinions and it can never be otherwise. You are right Alan, it should never have been otherwise, but alas, it is what it is and so we must be our own truth vigilantes. good luck with that! (Better chance if you read artvoice!)

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