Over the months, and indeed through the decades, I've mentioned how the mainstream press can be buffaloed if one party to a dispute says things that just aren't true. Every reflex teaches journalists that the only "fair" approach is to neutrally report "both sides" -- and to resist ever saying, "for the record, one side is just making things up." Thus we have the false equivalence problem. "Professor Jones says that males differ from females in having both an X and a Y chromosome, as opposed to two Xs, but Mr. Smith says that such findings reflect a political agenda and also the motivation of funders." All views are equal, and a reporter remains "objective" just by serving up what each side says.*
Today the "public editor" of the New York Times, Arthur Brisbane, has asked in apparent earnestness whether the world's leading news organization should be a "truth vigilante." He begins this way:
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.
It would be tempting to provide "input" in the form of a D'oh! slap to the forehead, a huffy "well now we see what the problem is!" email or Tweet, a stiff drink, and a suspicion that the NYT and the Onion have finally merged. Some of these things have indeed happened (here's Brisbane's response, and a wrapup from the Atlantic Wire). The most inspired response was an homage from Vanity Fair. Hint: VF is seeking reader input on whether "words" should be spelled "correctly." Also, see the droll fake Twitter feed.