Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Hardly different from lying"

Jay Rosen, the journalism professor at NYU, has been sharply critical of National Public Radio for its "He said, she said" treatment of a story about new -- and Kafkaesque -- restrictions on providers of abortions in Kansas. Here's what Rosen wrote:
In last week’s NPR report, the dispute was about the new requirements for abortion clinics in Kansas. These rules were an attempt to drive the few remaining clinics out of business, said abortion providers and their defenders. Nope, just common sense policies for protecting women’s health, said opponents of abortion. I didn’t think that leaving it there was good enough, so I sent a complaint to the NPR ombudsman.
NPR reacted, and the reporter did, too, saying they didn't want to "take sides."

Ladies and gentlemen at NPR: the truth doesn't have a side.

The media commentator Steve Buttry picked up the story, and you can really tell this guy is old school:
Jay provides an excellent example of reporting that is accurate but falls short of the journalistic principle of seeking the truth. That was a key point of the workshop [that Buttry recently taught]: Yes, we taught about getting quotes accurate and verifying facts, but we stressed that accurate but incomplete or accurate but lacking context doesn’t fulfill the responsibility to seek, find and report the truth.

While I have called for updating some of the details in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, I love the direct, elegant wording of its first principle: Seek Truth and Report It. “He said, she said” reporting shrugs off this responsibility. In fact, it presents lies equally with the truth, which is hardly different from lying.
For me, this crystalizes a truth about modern reporting and the discomfort that I have with it. It isn't editorializing to try to get behind the quotes; it's just trying to find the truth.

And here's an update before the post even goes up: read the comments to Rosen's post, linked above.

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