The New York Times Asks “Shall We Report The Truth?”

Ken AshfordRight Wing and Inept MediaLeave a Comment

In a stunning editorial today, the New York Times ombudmen Arthur Brisbane asks TImes readers whether — hold on to your hats — whether or not Times reporters should state the facts.  He gives us an example of how it might work:

…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.”

The answer to Mr. Brisbane's question is, of course, YES.  Reporters should not be court stenographers, simply jotting down the he-said, she-said of political life.  Where there are discernable FACTS to be made or clarified, the Times should OF COURSE make or clarify them.

The responses in the comments section are almost universally the same, i.e.,

This is like a bad joke, except it's not funny. Are you seriously asking whether a journalist should point out when, for example, a candidate for president is lying to the American public? The answer is unequivocally yes. I also find it very disappointing that this piece is assumes that pointing out a falsehood would be considered biased or unfair.

I also think referring to the people on whom you report as "newsmakers" is misleading and problematic. The image is that the politician, whoever it may be, is the only active participant in the process, and that a journalist must simply passively report whatever the politician does or says.


This should not even be a question. Allowing blatant untruths to go unchallenged is not "objective reporting," it's merely lazy and irresponsible. You do seem to lead the discussion with the "apologizing for America" example–this is hyperbole rather than an outright lie, and a reasonable reader could conclude that Romney is giving his own spin on the president's words. There are, however, any number of outright falsehoods that have been spoken on the campaign trail, and even before–how much differently might have the health care debate played out if the Times and other news organizations had noted, in the body of their articles, that many statements by senators and congressmen and women simply weren't true? Or, how would an assessment for truth of politicians' words affected the lead up to war in Iraq?

In short: yes. Let bluster stand, but please, please, please verify that politicians' statements of fact are, in reality, factually correct.


How is it possible this is even a question? Of COURSE you should fact-check the the things people tell you, and inform readers if what they said is false. Your job is to tell us the relevant facts about a story, and if someone lies, that's an extremely relevant fact. 

If I want to know the he-said-she-said I can read twitter. The Times is supposed to be a news operation.

The sad state of journalism.  You can see what is going on here: the Times is worried that they will be accused of bias.  So they write things like "Mitt Romney says that two plus two equals five; Democrats disagree".  But as Jamison Foser explained very well this morning, he-said/she-said journalism makes matters worse through neglect.

When reporters omit reality from their stories in order to avoid being seen as "involved" or "taking sides," they are taking sides. And they are taking the wrong side. When you treat two statements — one true and one false — as equally valid and equally likely to be true, you are conferring an undeserved benefit on the false statement.

Journalism needs to hold politicians' feet to the fire (both Democrat and Republican).  When facts are stated incorrectly, this needs to be pointed out!

Ed Murrow is rolling in his grave.