I figure if Ed Brayton can pull up a story from last November in order to write about a topic he cares about deeply, then I should be able to resurrect a dead blog to call attention to said issue, right? That’s what I thought.
So over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed reminds us all of the CNN reporter who ended up an ex-CNN reporter after including her personal opinion in a tweet.
Ed writes a bit about that story, and then more on the larger issue of journalistic “objectivity,” which is something I feel a lot of people, including many in the news media, do not really understand. The role of The Press in our system is worthless when it reports the news like competing press releases with no actual journalism involved. I thought the press was supposed to search for the truth? To tell the electorate what was really going on in the world, so they were better prepared to evaluate the issues, and see through the spin of politicians to make informed choices at the ballot box? Or as Ed puts it:
At AINN, we measured our success through what we called “impact stories” — that is, stories that led directly to some kind of change in policy that improved a situation in a measurable way. And Michigan led all of our state news sites in impact stories by a wide margin, due entirely to my two amazing reporters, Todd Heywood and Eartha Melzer. They were tireless and committed to getting to the truth. They held the feet of the powerful to the fire time and time again and got real change.
Let me give you one simple example. At one point, Heywood got a call from a kid at the University of Michigan who believed he might have been exposed to HIV during a sexual encounter. He had gone to a clinic but they had not put him on a course of treatment called n-PEP: non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis. If someone is exposed to HIV, putting them on anti-retroviral drugs like Truvada within the first 72 hours is incredibly effective at preventing the infection as a result of the exposure.
The CDC has issued official recommendations for the use of n-PEP in any situation of exposure to HIV since 2005, but the Michigan Department of Community Health had not issued any guidance to doctors, hospitals and clinics instructing them that this is the standard for treatment in such situations. Heywood started reporting about this and hounding the MDCH about it. It went on for about three months before the MDCH finally issued the proper guidelines. This is the very definition of an impact story, one that will literally save lives.
We did not report the dodges and rationalizations offered by the MDCH at face value. We didn’t pretend to be “objective” and just report the things they were saying. We pointed out why those statements were wrong and were disingenuous, because they were. Our commitment was not to some ridiculous and fake “balance” but to telling the truth. That’s what real journalists do. That’s what they should do. But major news outlets punish them for doing that, for injecting something more than a mealy-mouthed he said/she said into important conversations.
Donald Trump’s campaign has shaken some reporters and some outlets enough that they are coming dangerously close to questions that real journalists would ask Trump’s spokespeople if given the chance, yet even in this insane cycle you see the horse race narrative fight to come to the forefront, as some in the industry fight to drag HRC down to the level they manage to elevate Trump. And even the ones that are asking the “tough questions” this year will fall back into “bothsiderism” as soon as Trump is safely defeated.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, sure. But if it’s not an opinion informed by facts, then you shouldn’t expect anyone to take you opinion seriously or treat it with the least bit of respect, least of all a member of the press. If the claim is that water is indeed wet, do you need to give equal time to the “dry water” holdouts? If a political candidate flat out denies saying something you have video of them saying, how can you not just instantly confront them with the video evidence? When did “follow up questions” become a major journalistic sin?
Anyway, go and read the whole piece over at Dispatches. You’ll know when I post again.