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The Truth Vigilantes

I’m late to writing about this, so I’ll spare you the recap and assume that you’ve already read this from the public editor of the New York Times. I’ll just leave youwith my thoughts.

It really is incredible that the nation’s most respected news organization has to even ask “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

What conspicuously absent from Brisbane’s blog entry was any sort of alternate model. I really would like to hear what he thinks the job of a report is if not to challenge “facts” (in scarequotes) asserted by the rich and powerful.

I understand the press’s desire to not be a referee. I really do. There are plenty of people who would be perfectly happy arguing that black is white, if they thought that they could gain power by convincing a few people. Determining “truth” is a heavy burden. You’re bound to be wrong at least occasionally, and even one misstatement could be damaging to your credibility.

So I can understand why some might be reluctant to take this on. But if this is not the job description of the journalist, I want to know what is. The only alternatives I can think of are “stenographer” or “relayer of press releases”. I’m sure that’s not what these men and women see themselves as. If it is, then the problem is much more serious than I imagined.

What I want, at this point, is for a mainstream journalist to articulate an alternate ideal.  Explain to me what you see your role as.

It’s clear from the reaction to Brisbane’s blog entry that this is clearly what the readership expects of these journalists. It’s a clear line in the sand. “The job of a journalist”, we, the public, say “is to leave us better informed about the world than we were before we began reading.” Lets not pretend this is going to be an easy job. It will not be. Even the best will fail occasionally. But goddamnit we expect our press corps to try.

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