Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Note on the MSM, and Intellectuals Screwing Up


      The New York Times published an article the other day by Richard Posner.  In it, he asserted that the Main Stream Media don't deliberately lie when reporting the news.  Posner should know better than that.

At Length:

      Yesterday, Glenn linked to a New York Times article by Richard Posner, about the woes of the MSM.  It has some interesting information and ideas, but it's marred by something typical of many intellectuals, a tendency to believe things because they fit with a theory, rather than because the evidence was checked and confirmed the idea.

      This just leapt out at me:
      Not that the media lie about the news they report; in fact, they have strong incentives not to lie.

      Really?  The month I started this blog, the 60 Minutes Wednesday phony memo mess occurred.  In a post entitled The Meaning of Rathergate, Part Three: Egregious and Total Dishonesty, I documented various statements that CBS made, all of which were lies.  For instance, on Friday, September 10th, CBS issued a press release which said each of the documents:
      was thoroughly vetted by independent experts and we are convinced of their authenticity.

      That was a lie.  The truth was that:
      CBS consulted four document and handwriting experts.  Two doubted the documents were authentic.  The other two said the signatures looked all right, but they couldn't verify the documents.  Only one had a final conclusion, and only on the signature: "probably valid".

      Here's something my friend Frank sent me, from The Weekly Standard Newsletter for Fri, 22 Jul 2005:
      The tale originated with one of my favorite bloggers, Patterico, who noticed an article in the July 20 Los Angeles Times which referred to Roberts as "a member of the conservative Federalist Society."

      An LA Times editorial that same day piggy-backed on its reporter's piece and threw in some rhetorical embellishment for good measure, informing readers that Roberts was not just a member, but "a fixture in the Federalist Society."

      This sort of language suggests deep authorial knowledge--that the editorial writer knew not just the black-and-white facts of Roberts's affiliation with the Federalist Society, but that he (or she!) was actually familiar with the inner-goings on of the group.  To know that Roberts was a "fixture," and not just a peripheral member, or perhaps a new member, or even a lapsed member, the editorialist surely knew a great deal about America's preeminent conservative legal society.

      Except for one thing: As the Washington Post reported, and Patterico pointed out, "John Roberts is not, in fact, a member of the Federalist Society, and he says he never has been."

      Now, there has since been a Clintonesque dispute over whether Roberts was ever a Federalist Society member.  As The Washington Post reported:
      Over the weekend, The Post obtained a copy of the Federalist Society Lawyers' Division Leadership Directory, 1997-1998.  It lists Roberts, then a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson, as a member of the steering committee of the organization's Washington chapter and includes his firm's address and telephone number. . . .

      Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard A. Leo said that either he or another official of the organization recruited Roberts for the committee.  Roberts's task was to serve "as a point of contact within the firm to let people know what is going on" with the organization. "It doesn't meet, it doesn't do a whole lot.  The only thing we expect of them is to make sure people in the firm know about us," Leo said.

      Whatever the truth about Roberts's membership (and organizations like the Federalist Society recruit prominent people to be on their letterhead, for prestige puposes), the point remains.  The LA Times editorial writer just made up the "fixture" stuff.  I'd say making stuff up, and printing it without checking constitutes lying.

      Posner's mistake of assuming something true without attempting to confirmit is hardly limited to intellectuals, of course.  So when reading anyone, including me, you should remember to ask 'Just how does this person know that?'



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