NYTimes public editor (others call that job “ombudsman”) Arthur Brisbane attempts to remove his foot from his mouth:
A large majority of respondents weighed in with, yes, you moron, The Times should check facts and print the truth. That was not the question I was trying to ask. My inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut “facts” that are offered by newsmakers when those “facts” are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.
Yeah, no. Some of the criticism Brisbane received for his initial post was silly — a classic case of people not reading beyond the headline.
But Brisbane’s still wrong. It’s only a difficult question if you think objectivity is simply getting “both sides.” It’s not. Objective journalism is the quest to get the facts no matter what the partisans want you to say.
Yes, challenging mistruth is difficult. You have to deal with legitimate criticism as well as the idiots and cretins will always attempt to discredit the fact-checkers. These days, you’ll get called “liberal” more often than not.
Yet if no one checks facts, what would prevent politicians from inventing new reality? What would make us different from the Soviet Union of the 1970s? Our bulwark against propaganda is already too thin.
I’m glad Brisbane raised the question. Plenty of people have forgotten that journalists are supposed to do more than repeat partisan rhetoric. But the answer is indeed obvious.