Friday, September 11, 2009

Don't make me wash your mouth out with soap

In a column today at Media Matters, Jamison Foser furthers my assertion that the mainstream media generally don't make the point of informing the public about whether something is the truth or not. Case in point? The story about Representative Joe Wilson's (R-SC) interruption of President Obama's address to the joint congress calling him a liar, because he said that illegal aliens would not be covered in the health care proposals.

"First is the media's reluctance to "take sides" in factual disputes (which is, in effect, siding with the incorrect claim) and their apparent belief that rudeness is a greater sin than lying. Scores of news reports covered the controversy over Wilson's shouted claim that the president was lying when he said proposed health care reform would not apply to those who are in America illegally -- but they focused on the breach of decorum rather than the question of whether Obama or Wilson was correct. (Independent, nonpartisan observers like and have made clear that Wilson was wrong; Obama was not lying.)"
"It's obvious how this is going to play out. Before too long, polls will show a large minority -- maybe even a majority -- of Americans believe that Democratic reform proposals will provide subsidized insurance for people who are in the country illegally. And when that happens, Howard Kurtz and MSNBC will be gobsmacked. They'll wonder how this can be, when the media was so aggressive in reporting on Wilson's false comments. It'll never occur to them that the problem is their focus on the rudeness of Wilson's comment rather than the falsity of the comment; that they are to blame for doing a lousy job of fact-checking Wilson's comment while giving it priceless attention."
"Now, what happens when the media refuse to call a lie a lie? Right: It encourages politicians to behave badly and lie. The negative consequences are mitigated, and it gets them attention. Given the way the media covers these things, it isn't surprising that people who oppose health care reform feel comfortable lying and being disruptive. Why wouldn't they?"
Truth matters. If putting two pundits with opposite viewpoints on the air and giving them equal time to get out their talking points passes for reporting the truth, the people listening suffer.

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