The NYT says "false." Good.

When writing the previous item yesterday afternoon, about the pernicious works and thoughts of Elizabeth McCaughey, I had no idea that the NYT was planning to go into the same terrain with a very good story today:

NYTAug14.jpg

But I mention the story mainly because of the way it is presented as a lead item on the TImes's web site, as shown at left. Using the word "False" is a big - and important -- step for an organization like the Times to make. I can't recall a time when the NYT used that word in a headline to describe the "birther" worldview.


 In general, even on the most extreme, out-of-the-realm-of-fact political claims, every powerful instinct in the news media shies from calling something "false" in favor of adjectives like "controversial" or "disputed," or sometimes "partisan." As many people have noted, and as I discussed even back at the dawn of time in Breaking the News, the "objective" instincts of the news media can tie it in knots when one side to a political argument is perfectly willing to say obviously false things. It's hard for mainstream publications to say outright that something is false or a lie. So it is impressive to see that the NYT has taken that step.

Online at least. The front page of the print paper plays the story big, but under this headline: "Getting to the Source of the 'Death Panel' Rumor." Much to discuss later on about how the two versions of the paper came to their different decisions; about whether in the long-run there will be "web-appropriate" and "print-appropriate" versions of objectivity; and whether this labeling even by the NYT will have any effect on political discussion. It may be that we're so far into the era of separate fact-universes that having the NYT call something false makes others believe all the more that it is true. Nonetheless, it's a headline worth noticing.
 
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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