Truth/Facts & The Role of The Media

From the LA Times, an op/ed from Neal Gabler questioning the role of the media, in particular the mainstream media, as it pertains to healthcare, although his point is certainly much broader. His key point:

Maybe Americans should know better. Maybe they shouldn’t fall for the latest imbecilic propaganda and scare tactics. Maybe. But a citizenry is only as well-informed as the quality of information it receives. One can’t expect Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or the Republican Party or even the Democrats to provide serious, truthful assessments of a complex health plan. Truth has to come from somewhere else — from a reliable, objective, trustworthy source.

That source should be the media, and there has been, in fact, some excellent coverage of healthcare, especially by our better newspapers and especially lately when the untruths have become a torrent, rousing reporters to provide a corrective. But overall, the coverage has not been exactly edifying. According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of the stories in its media sample last week were devoted to healthcare, but three-quarters of that coverage was either about legislative politics or the town halls. Tom Rosenstiel, who heads Pew’s Center for Excellence in Journalism, said that if the healthcare debate is a potential teaching moment, that “moment is passing us by.”

Ah, the truth. I covered this some time back, with this point:

What we should be asking for is the media to do more of what it is good at — take a great pass at determining who real experts are in a given arena, ask the right questions, do the right research, then present the results. Annotate better. Share more. Post more transcripts. Ask hard follow up questions. Don’t let people in power get away (again) with lying to us.

We rarely live in a binary world, where things are either zeros or one, right or wrong, no grays, all black and white. The power is being able to see the gray more clearly, not to see more of the black and the white.

Maybe I was too optimistic, seeing the declines in real reporting and the increase in shouting that have happened since then. It’s not a left/right thing, it’s the fact that more people get their news from sources that they trust and keep them comfortable. These news ghettos exist to a degree never before seen, and make it possible to completely avoid having to deal with ideas/facts/information that don’t directly support what you already believe. Is it the role of the media to puncture those ghettos? I think not, and I don’t believe they have credibility currently to do so. We’ve all seen talking heads absolutely skewered by the “facts” and by their own words (paging Rep Bachman, line 1) with absolutely no impact, and we’ve seen politicians and business leaders blatantly lie with no short term consequence. We have ‘birthers” and ‘truthers’ and a society where a strongly held opinion is as valid (apparently) as vetted and proven facts.

In this environment, the onus as seekers of truth lies more on us than on anyone else. And the first step is the hardest – open the mind to the idea that we may be wrong. There is a saying, “doubt is the essence of faith,” which applies in matters beyond faith as well. It’s good to remember.

Update: the WaPost makes a similar point today.

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