Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Media's Selective Credulity

The media has long suffered from the mental impairment known as selective credulity. Whatever jibes with a reporter's personal views on a given topic is automatically believed and reported as fact. Take, for instance, MSNBC's story today relating that Scooter Libby has told prosecutors that he believed the president had authorized him to leak secrets. Rather than reporting this rather straightforward story as what it actually is -- one criminal defendant's representation of events -- the reporter editorialized that, "the disclosure in documents filed Wednesday means that the president and the vice president put Libby in play as a secret provider of information to reporters about prewar intelligence on Iraq."

Of course, the disclosure means nothing of the sort. The disclosure merely means Libby claims to have had authorization from the president. And that may turn out to be true. But merely claiming something does not make it so, nor does it mean that any other assumptions that flow through a reporter's mind are true. Again, it could be true. I'd even go so far as to say I believe the reporter's conclusion probably is true. But it's not the media's job to jump to such conclusions and report them as facts. After all, it's possible that Libby is lying now to save his skin. Perhaps he's angry that the White House has not tried harder to shield him from prosecution. Maybe he's actually mistaken. I'm too jaded to believe it, but it certainly is within the realm of reason to assert that maybe one person interprets a conversation or series of events differently from another person, or that something relayed by an intermediary (Cheney, allegedly) gets "lost in translation." Then there are other possibilities regarding the White House's actions. Maybe the president did "put Libby in play as a secret provider of information" as MSNBC reports, intentionally subverting his own policy of keeping secrets. Or perhaps the president never knew the issues at hand were ever classified. Funny how reporters -- and the left more broadly -- love to ridicule President Bush as a simple minded dunce, then act as if he must be some evil genius intimately knowledgeable about every detail of WMD intelligence, clandestine operations, etc. The left simply cannot let loose of its belief that Bush is a liar who gave the green light to divulge sensitive information, doing irreparable harm to the nation's security, for petty political gain. They may even be right about certain elements of that view.

Still, no matter what reporters believe in this (or any) case, they should refrain from editorializing and presenting the resulting polemics as objective truth. It wouldn't even require much effort -- just a little attribution, which they should have learned in Journalism 101. That is, rather than reporting that the sky is falling they should report that, "According to Chicken Little, the sky is falling," or "Critics of God say these developments indicate the sky is falling." But that would leave the door open for some truth other than the reporter's own perception of it. We couldn't have that, now could we?


At 4:08 AM, Blogger Len said...

Great post. Incidentally, I was thinking exactly the same thing Saturday morning when I read an article entitled "President Bush leaks intelligence", a fairly dubious headline considering the article was pure conjecture. To be perfectly honest, I suppose that it’s natural; even journalists have sympathies.


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