When Candidates Lie, REAL Journalists Say They ‘Finessed the Facts’

On the subject of why politicians aren’t worried about corporate media factcheckers, a New York Times article from last week (8/31/12) by Alessandra Stanley is worth a second look.

Rachel Maddow/photo by JD Lasica

Rachel Maddow: ruining it for everybody else (JD Lasica)

Under the headline, “How MSNBC Became Fox‘s Liberal Evil Twin,” Stanley wrote: “You can agree with everything that Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz say on MSNBC and still oppose their right to say it.” Stanley’s problem was that “all that attitude” on MSNBC “leaves fewer choices for viewers who like their election coverage with informed commentary without a twist of bias”:

All that arch sarcasm and partisan brio may rev up the cable channel’s fans, but it constrains–and stains–NBC News, its corporate sibling, which is still the country’s No. 1 source in the evening.

As if that weren’t clear enough, Stanley went on to write that although NBC journalists like Tom Brokaw and David Gregory “are badly needed” on MSNBC‘s election coverage, they “don’t stay long or join the fray–like piano players in a brothel, they don’t go upstairs.”

I recall that when MSNBC‘s presumably non-evil twin, Fox News, was still considered an only child, media analysts generally took the opposite position–that it was deeply unfair to suggest that the outspoken partisanship of Fox‘s commentators  cast any shadow on the ostensibly straight-shooting news reporters on Fox News. As FAIR’s Seth Ackerman wrote in 2001 (Extra!, 7-8/01):

The fact that Fox‘s “chat consistently tilts to the conservative side,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz (2/5/01), “may cast an unwarranted cloud on the news reporting, which tends to be straightforward.”

When a New York Times profile of Fox News ran with a headline calling it a “conservative cable channel” (9/18/00), the paper quickly corrected their “error” the following day, explaining that in “attributing a general political viewpoint to the network, the headline exceeded the facts in the article.”

But what’s really interesting is the first example Stanley gives of the kind of beyond-the-pale commentary that so taints the reputation of the good people at NBC News:

Especially when [Maddow and Schultz] and their hyped-up panelists shout that Republican claims are “lies.”…

Yep, that’s the sort of thing that really shouldn’t be allowed to sully the reputation of cable TV news–referring to politicians’ deliberate attempts to deceive the voting public as “lies.” Stanley’s colleague Elisabeth Bumiller famously explained that in the kind of journalism the New York Times recognizes as such, “You can’t say the president is lying.” Apparently that rule applies to vice presidential candidates as well–as long as they’re Republican, at least.

Why don’t you show us how a real journalist does it, Ms. Stanley?

On Thursday, Mr. [Chris] Matthews fulminated against Paul Ryan’s–admittedly misleading–assertion that Mr. Obama did nothing to prevent the closing of a GM plant in 2008. Then Fox News attacked media figures who attacked Mr. Ryan. CNN took the harder course of parsing the entire issue: The correspondent Tom Foreman gave a long, industrious analysis that explained where and how Mr. Ryan finessed the facts.

There you go: To avoid staining your journalistic siblings, never “fulminate” against political deception. Instead, when candidates lie, gently report that they “finessed the facts.”

With journalistic standards like that in place, the Romney/Ryan team will never pay a price for refusing “to let our campaign be dictated by factcheckers.”



About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.