Crikey ran a piece of mine today heavily reworked from my earlier Troppo post on ‘he said – she said’ journalism. In it I tried to further articulate – with the help of my friend George Orwell – how serious this issue is. For me it’s the difference between reason and unreason, sanity and its opposite. Anyway, Troppodillians, and those who’ve wandered over from Crikey, the Crikey post is below the fold, and I welcome any discussion it generates.
He said she said journalism: New York Times shows the way
George Orwell said that respectability being given to the proposition that two plus two equals five frightens me much more than bombs.
But theres one place where our sanity is challenged like this every day. Our media.
The essence of he said she said journalism is the wide eyed reporting of opposing sides of an argument as if their very being in opposition confers on each some inherent claim for equal respect.
As Paul Krugman puts it, if a presidential candidate said the earth was flat, the headline would be Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point. After all, the earth isnt perfectly spherical.
Like reality TV, the equally ubiquitous he said she said journalism generates cheap content. The latest scrap is reported by a journalist with minimal knowledge of the area and the reader ends up none the wiser.
Heres an innocent example.
In yesterdays Age (it took a while for Crikey to publish this piece) Josh Gordon reported on a scrap about the Victorian Governments debt.
With consistent operating surpluses forecast to continue, Victorian Government borrowing will rise to less than three per cent of state product to fund infrastructure investment. If you think thats wrong or scary youre ignorant of the simplest household economics.
But Gordons story was that Victorian Treasurer John Brumby was on the defensive about state debt. Why? Because his opponent attacked him. But thats not news is it?
But maybe something is stirring. The New York Times recently reported some statistical analysis showing that white umpires fouled black players disproportionately and (to a lesser degree) vice versa. NBA spinmeisters had commissioned their own study which said the opposite (surprise, surprise!).
He said – she said.
But the Times did what journalists should always attempt even if theyve only got time for a phone call. It sought and reported on independent advice confirming the original studys superiority. Times readers had the information to form an informed opinion rather than the usual cynical shrug of the shoulders.
A whole lot more of that and we might, slowly, dig our way out of the morass all around us.