Sunday, January 15, 2006

Truth vs News

Last week I was talking with my second son about how the MSM's top priority is not the truth but rather the news. I used an exagerated example of a prominent scientist issuing a press release saying that his study shows that the moon is made of green cheese. Would the reporter report it and would his paper print it I asked? Yes he said. And is it true I asked? Of course not he admitted.

The point I was trying to make is that the news and the truth are often two different things and newspapers will always go for news first and truth second. That's why they are called newspapers instead of truthpapers I added.

The recent MSM disgrace in covering the mine disaster in West Virginia is proof that sensationalism takes precedence over facts, at least for most of the MSM. Jay Rosen at Press Think has a story on one reporter who got it right.

Evidently, the media were given a briefing room in which they would be given info by the authorities as it was confirmed. But when the rumor spread that the miners' families were celebrating at the church because they heard that the miners were all alive, the media left the briefing room and went to the church for the sensational story. Except for one reporter. Becky Wagoner, a reporter for the Inter-Mountain newspaper, stayed in the briefing room. For three hours the MSM reported a falsehood. She didn't. Their readers were misled. Her's weren't. Their papers and TV news stations looked, to the public, like incompetents. Her paper didn't.

Compounding matters, some of the reporters didn't use caveats like "unconfirmed" of "unverified." They reported the story as fact. If you ask me, the MSM needs to send their news staffs to WV and have Ms. Wagoner give them lessons on how to identify facts from rumors.

But suppose some of the MSM stayed in the briefing room and let other reporters scoop them by three hours. What would their editors say? Would they even have a job tomorrow?

I think the problem is at the top. If the editors and publishers on top don't demand their news staffs be populated with Becky Wagoner types, they won't be and more such fiascos like WV will happen. But there is another way: you and I can simply refuse to buy newspapers or tune in at 6 and 11 to listen to or read news people who don't behave like Ms. Wagoner.

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