Lies and the journalists who call them out

I don’t make a point of checking in on Glenn Greenwald as often as I used to, so I actually came across this really good post via Roger Ebert’s facebook feed (which I recommend, by the way).  I just love this take on how defective the thinking of mainstream journalism is.  Apparently, a number of gatekeepers of journalism ethics feel the need to chastise Anderson Cooper for using the dreaded “L” word.  That’s right: “lie.”  Apparently, to call a spade a spade is a horrible journalistic sin.  Presumably journalists should just point out “inconsistencies” in statements, but to actually call an obvious lie as such, is somehow biased journalistic misconduct.  Absurd!  Anyway, here’s Greenwald:

Over the weekend, The Los Angeles‘ TimesJames Rainey mocked CNN’s Anderson Cooperfor repeatedly using the word “lie” to describe the factually false statements of Egyptian leaders.  Though Rainey ultimately concluded that “it’s hard to find fault with what Cooper had to say” — meaning that everything Cooper identified as a “lie” was, in fact, a “lie” — the bulk of Rainey’s column derided the CNN anchor for his statements (“Cooper’s accusations of ‘lies’ and ‘lying’ got so thick on Wednesday’s show that the host seemed to be channeling comic (and now U.S. Sen.) Al Franken’s 2003 book, ‘Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them'”).  Rainey also suggested that the harsh denunciations of Mubarak’s false statements were merely part of “Cooper’s pronounced shift toward more opinion-making in recent months . . . trying to adopt the more commentary-heavy approach of [CNN’s] higher-rated competitors, Fox and MSNBC.”  To Rainey, when a journalist calls a government lie a “lie,” that’s veering into “commentary-heavy opinion-making” rather than objective journalism (h/t Mediaite).

Yesterday, Cooper’s CNN colleague, media critic Howard Kurtz, sounded the same criticism but went even further.  On his Reliable Sourcesprogram, Kurtz showed a video clip of Cooper and then posed the following question to guest Christopher Dickey of Newsweek:

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Chris Dickey, Anderson Cooper repeatedly using the word lies. Now I think most journalists would agree with him, perhaps most Americans would agree with him. But should an anchor and correspondent be taking sides on this kind of story?

To Kurtz, when a journalist accurately points out that a powerful political leader is lying, that’s “taking sides,” a departure from journalistic objectivity, something improper.  In reply, Dickey agreed with that assessment, noting that “part of the soul of [Cooper’s] show is to take sides” and be “committed to a certain vision of the story.”…

And now, for a classic Greenwald rant that really makes me wish I had written it:

Rainey, Kurtz and Dickey all have this exactly backwards.  Identifying lies told by powerful political leaders — and describing them as such — is what good journalists do, by definition.  It’s the crux of adversarial journalism, of a “watchdog” press.  “Objectivity” does not require refraining from pointing out the falsity of government claims.  The opposite is true; objectivity requires that a journalist do exactly that:  treat factually false statements as false.  “Objectivity” is breachednot when a journalist calls a lie a “lie,” but when they refuse to do so, when they treat lies told by powerful political officials as though they’re viable, reasonable interpretations of subjective questions.  The very idea that a journalist is engaged in “opinion-making” or is “taking sides” by calling a lie a “lie” is ludicrous; the only “side” such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth.   It’s when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are “taking sides” — they’re siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.

Amen, brother.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Lies and the journalists who call them out

  1. John says:

    How can we possible have bipartisanship when Faux News, Newsmax, Beck, Limbaugh, etc. are busy spinning entirely new dimensions of reality? We can’t ever get to a substantive conversation over ideas because there’s no consensus on reality.

  2. David says:

    If Republicans called the sky blue and Democrats said it was red (or vice versa) would anyone in the media point out that it is in fact blue?

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