Sunday, September 12, 2004

 

Shattered Glass and 60 Minutes

Well, I know Matt has commented several times that objectivity in journalism shouldn't necessarily be considered superior to subjectivity, and in one comment said that people just find stuff that supports their opinions to make themselves feel better and I don't disagree that that is what people do or even really that total objectivity is even possible in reality. My concern however is how subjectivity, especially when it is misleading, is in essence a lie and that the more we consider this acceptable the less likely we will be able to find out what is going on at all. I watched Shattered Glass today, which is about Stephen Glass over at the New Republic who made up stories and got away with it repeatedly. 27 out of 41 stories that he wrote during his time there were ficticious either in part or completely. He also wrote stories for other publications which were false. The DVD includes a 60 minutes interview in which he says: "I wanted a story that I thought would be the perfect story and that the readers would most enjoy to read." My first response was to scream at the TV. I don't want the news story to be the one I most enjoy reading...I want it to be true. I do not believe that the media as a whole is to the right or the left of the median reader, viewer, or listener (depending on the media source). An article in the Cato Journal on media bias that I read during college illustrated the problem with so a belief beautifully. Such a belief is subject to the same criticisms as to why cartels should not be expected to exist for sustained periods. There is market share to be captured. Unfortuneatly that also means that the more people who don't care about the truth and only care about getting their beliefs confirmed or getting something entertaining to read, the more market share there is to be captured by abandoning the truth in part or entirely.

In any case, the movie was very good. The 60 minutes interview was a bit ironic in light of the circumstance regarding a recent interview on 60 minutes. Here is Rather's response to the allegations. I would like to point out that the defense is often highly misleading and doesn't even address several of the key issues regarding the debate, such as the proportional spacing issue. Here is the statement on the CBS News website, which states that "This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Col. Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking." I find this part interesting because it makes no mention of Killian's family that doubts the authenticity. I also find it odd that CBS would put out a statement saying that they are not even investigating. What is the harm in investigating and turning up the fact that noone did anything? In fact, while watching Shattered Glass I was disturbed by the fact that it took another publication desperate to know how it missed a story to start digging and discover that it was entirely ficticious. As the line in the movie goes: (paraphrasing) "I did find one thing in the story that was true. There apparently is a state in the Union called Nevada. " Sadly, I don't think anyone will care no matter which side of the issue is lying. If the documents are real then the accusations are either based upon ignorance or lies and when reporting the news ignorance is no excuse. There was really very little fallout when Dateline manufactured evidence against the car companies or when Rivera lied about having been at the site of a battle in Iraq and journalists, not just columnists, seem increasingly willing to defend this practice of writing about events they never attended as if they were there (or that may not have even occured yet).

Now, I don't really know if the documents were forged or not, and the only reason I care is because of this whole thing about journalistic integrity, but that being said...why in the hell is Vietnam an issue is a freaking 2004 election? Yes I know Kerry brought it up by making it a strong point of his campaign, but if that method gets votes in 2004 I will find that deeply disturbing. (Would anyone like to tell me, Swift boat ads aside, why someone who testified before Congress that everyone in Vietnam was guilty of atrocities and war crimes would bring it up as something to campaign on?)

I know many people will not believe this, but I didn't think it made any sence to bring up Vietnam with Clinton (and I might add the entire controversy didn't exactly hurt him in the election process so I don't understand how the inverse will help Kerry) but 12 years later I can't see Vietnam having become a more important measure of fitness for service. I really just need to drive a nail through my head some days.

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