Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sudden shafts of light: the journalist as honest cop

DeLong and Krugman have long shone a noble light on the discredited "he said", "she said" style of journalism. This style requires that journalist be a neutral observer, reporting only what they're told. At most a journalist can hint, usually "below the fold", that some statement is an outrageous untruth.

This might have been a reasonable approach to pre-Gingrichian politics, but Gingrich's brilliance was to realize that "neutral observer" journalism provides a large adaptive advantage to liars. Market selection worked its magic and we ended up with the GOP congress and the Bush administration.

"He said" "She said" is a practice that needs to end. Journalists need to point out lies.

That's why I burst into joyous laughter during my commute today. My "In Our Time" podcast was hung up on the minutiae of medieval philosophy; it was reminding me too much of my work. So I turned to the radio to catch Lindsey Graham, a GOP senator, comparing the US occupation of Iraq with US opposition to Nazi Germany. Senator Graham told us that in those days real Americans rolled up their sleeves, and didn't worry about budgets, cost accounting or any "surtax" to cover war costs.

Without any noticeable change in inflection, the journalist said something like 'Of course Americans did pay a war surtax during WW II' and turned to the next topic.

It was brilliantly devastating. Graham was exposed as either a fool or a liar, or, most likely, both.

Dare we hope this is an early sign of a new dawn? It is time to bury the neutral observer, we need an "honest cop" style of journalism.

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