Bad News Journalism

Frank Foer offers his take on the Scott Beauchamp mess. This whole doesn't seem to me to reflect very well on Beauchamp, on TNR, or on the crazed hawks who went after this story with guns blazing. Whatever the magazine's sins here may have been, though, one could hardly deem them especially significant in the broader scheme of things. More to the point, the magazine's response to allegations that it had printed something false is emblematic of how serious journalists respond to such matters -- seriously -- with a real effort to the discern the truth and with the belief that it's a seriously bad thing to publish something that wasn't true.

This is a sense of conscience and responsibility that seems almost entirely absent from the journals of the conservative movement. One could point to the way W. Thomas Smith appears to have written a bunch of made-up stuff about Lebanon for National Review Online, but to be fair to Smith I can easily imagine a person coming to the conclusion that NRO doesn't see inaccuracy as a bar to publication. Brad DeLong reminded us recently that National Review regularly publishes Donald Luskin included such pearls of wisdom as the following critique of studies showing rising inequality in the United States:

But none of this is reliable anyway: A footnote reveals that the statistics are derived from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics database, an ongoing survey that tracks only 8,000 families out of a U.S. population of 295 million individuals.

Yes, that's right, Donald Luskin, contributing editor to NRO Financial, doesn't believe in the validity of statistical sampling.

But of course since we're talking about a publication that frequently publishes intelligent designers on scientific topics why shouldn't it publish people who don't believe in statistics on economic tactics? And following on that, why not let Smith fabricate his dispatches from Lebanon? After all, climate change denialism gets a fair hearing at National Review on a regular basis. Some people will probably find K-Lo's apology about how "NRO should have provided readers with more context and caveats in some posts from Lebanon this fall" to be a laughably inadequate response to having completely fabricated an invasion of East Beirut by thousands of Hezbollah fighters. To me, though, it seems like rank hypocrisy for NRO to hold a particular writer out to dry like this -- Smith was just working to the long-established NRO standards.