Mad as hell? Welcome to #hesaidshesaid

One of the things I’d like to do in this election campaign is to draw attention to all the (most egregious) cases where the press engage in the mindlessness of “he said – she said” journalism. That is where they report various sides accusations of the other as if that then finishes their job. Obviously us voters want information to help us tell which of the two sides stories is more plausible. And obviously enough sometimes even a hard working journalist can’t find out the information necessary to throw light on the subject.  But often they can.

There’s always the next day of course, but I’m not after miracles here. Today there was a classic case of “he said – she said” journalism – well I expect there were endless cases of it, but the one I’m referring to is the situation where, one day after promising that a Liberal Government would not make any changes to the Fair Work Act until at least the return of Halley’s Comet Tony Abbott promised to – well change the Fair Work Act. He would do so by changing another act, and that would impliedly change the Fair Work Act as Ken has pointed out below.

The political stupidity or brazenness of this beggars belief, but there you go. Kerry O’Brien made a good fist of this in ripping into Joe Hockey on the first opportunity he was given. But ABC news reports confirmed to the standard ‘he said she said’ formula. Now there isn’t a clear cut right and wrong here – if the Coalition want to say that implied repeal of the Fair Work Act is consistent with yesterday’s pledge, then well and good – presumably any other part of the FWA can be likewise amended. But the ‘he said she said’ reporting didn’t really get to that point. It was as if the ALP’s lawyer and the Coalition’s lawyer were disagreeing. As Ken points out they weren’t. The Coalition’s lawyer just said that you can effect the change the Coalition wants without (expressly) changing the FWA. (How? by impliedly changing it!).

Why am I telling you all this? Because I’ve had enough. I’m mad as hell and I’m not taking it any more. Well I am taking it, but I’m hoping that maybe in this age of social media that it might be possible to mount a campaign against he said she said reporting. And though I’m flat out and so can’t give this the time I’d really like to, now is the time to have some impact. So I’m hoping that we can regularly publish articles shaming specific examples of ‘he said – she said’ journalism, and saying how the journalists in question could reasonably have actually given us information that would have enabled us to work out just a little more about whose story was more credible.

Why I’ve even been trying out a twitter hashtag – yes #hesaidshesaid. There is a small glitch, but it will only add a bit of spice and enjoyment to your day. Though largely unused, the hashtag gets a bit of a showing amongst people (Americans it seems) who want to relate particularly juicy and bitchy gossip and sniping such as this: “She said that you said to her that someone told you i was fckn thee btch, so u fkd him. Uhm, gtfo with that #hesaidshesaid”. Can’t really argue with that.

But these tweets only occur about once a day. So Troppodillians I’m hoping that you’ll email me (ngruen AT gmail) and tweet examples of #hesaidshesaid journalism using the hashtag.   Of course it will take a while, but I really think if we can do a bit of consciousness raising on this one, we may be able to start making a difference.For reference, some other Troppo posts on this are here here here and here

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12 Responses to Mad as hell? Welcome to #hesaidshesaid

  1. Senexx says:

    Are journalists more than just news reporters? If not, all they’re obliged to do is report the he said, she said lines of the day. Anything more becomes an opinion piece.
    I guess the closest thing they could do to rectify this is getting in a professional analyst for the he said, she said.

  2. Kevin Rennie says:

    Good idea. Might start a media copycat cliche watch. After bagging Gillard for ‘moving forward’ they all decided it was ‘standing still’ or ‘standstill’ day yesterday. Need a focused tag.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    “Are journalists more than just news reporters? If not, all they’re obliged to do is report the he said, she said lines of the day. Anything more becomes an opinion piece.”

    I’m afraid I think your argument is pretty superficial Senexx. If it’s a fact that the leader of the opposition says that climate change is ‘crap’ and a fact that the PM says it’s not, is it not also a fact that a large majority of qualified scientists think it’s not crap?

    Why report 1, 2 and not 3?

    And why should a reporter (or the editor who deploys them) think that the most important and useful use of the reporter’s time would be to attend some ‘he said she said’ function (like question time) at which people will be issuing scripted lines which are entirely predictable, (not least because they’ve already been used on the last previous relevant occasion)?

  4. Kimota says:

    Are journalists more than just news reporters? If not, all they’re obliged to do is report the he said, she said lines of the day. Anything more becomes an opinion piece.

    Ummm, no. They are supposed to report on what happened, not on what people said happened. Similarly, what is fact and not what is the opinion of people serving an agenda.

    Nick Davies described this threat of journalist neutrality best in his book “Flat Earth News”.

    Neutrality requires the journalist to become invisible, to refrain deliberately (under threat of discipline) from expressing the judgements which are essential for journalism. Neutrality requires the packaging of conflicting claims, which is precisely the opposite of truth-telling. If two men go to mow a meadow and one comes back and say ‘The job’s done’ and the other comes back and says ‘We never cut a single blade of grass’, neutrality requires the journalist to report a controversy surrounding the state of the meadow, to throw together both men’s claims and shove it out to the world with an implicit sign over the top declaring, ‘We don’t know what’s happening – you decide.’

    We need to know the state of the meadow, not what two opposing sides say about it. If one side’s claims are demonstrably false, we need to know. That is journalism. And such journalism should be exempted from attacks of bias. It isn’t bias to show that one claim is wrong while another is supported by evidence.

  5. Senexx says:

    Nicholas, I do not disagree. As I said in my qualifying comment, “I guess the closest thing they could do to rectify this is getting in a professional analyst for the he said, she said” – this would be equivocal to saying most scientists disagree with saying that climate change is crap.

    I also think saying “most scientists disagree…” is newsworthy.

    However, the straight up facts or news of what the people said are “I believe”, and “I don’t”. That’s the fact, that’s the news. It’s only news once though.

    As for Question Time, I don’t think it should ever be broadcast or reported upon for exactly the reasons you name. I am still struggling to find where the real decisions and real negotiations take place within the realms of parliament though.

    I think we agree but disagree with the semantics.

  6. Dave says:

    Is there a role for blogs here?

    A typical blog does not do “he said, she said” but instead does “he said, but what does this really mean and is it correct?”

    Blogs also include links where further details can be found. (In this case, say, links to the actual, written legal advice, if it is publicly available.) Mainstream media – even those on-line – rarely do this.

    It is early days, but blogs seem to be slowly entering the consciousness of the mainstream media.

    Perhaps, in the future, we will have “this blogger said, that blogger said”. Those who are interested can read the details on the respective blogs and make up their own mind.

  7. Leslie Katz says:

    I find that the older I get, the less I can be bothered with the nonsense that politicians go on with. However, I did catch, pretty much against my will, this silly debate about how one amends laws.

    If anyone takes that debate seriously and hasn’t otherwise seen it, they may be interested in Kartinyeri v The Commonwealth [1998] HCA 22.

    Have a look, for instance, at the joint reasons for judgment of Brennan CJ and McHugh J at [9] (footnotes omitted). They say, “The Bridge Act is an instance of what F A R Bennion calls ‘indirect express amendment’. It effects a partial repeal of the Heritage Protection Act, albeit the text of the Heritage Protection Act is unchanged.”

    It’s first-year law school stuff that a law can be amended even though the text of it isn’t altered in terms.

  8. Nick Green says:

    Hi Nicholas,

    Another thing that has been disturbing me lately with Journos, aside from the He Said – She Said nature of reporting, is the lack of accountability on basic details and mistakes.

    I heard the below on ABC NewsRadio (who have been particularly bad with HS-SS reporting and insipid ‘analysis’) but thought I may have misheard the figures involved.

    But here on the ABC website: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/07/20/2958427.htm

    I’m not the greatest with numbers, but Ireland having a budget deficit of $4 trillion seemed a little, err, excessive to me.

    (Happy to be held to account if I am the wrong one on this)

    This is only one of many mistakes I have either read or heard on air.

    Anyhew, will gladly send some HS-SS examples!

  9. Sheepy says:

    Excuse me – could I please have your sheep?

  10. Nicholas Gruen says:

    You can have the sheep. It’s infinitely replicable – we can all have the sheep.

  11. Bakie says:

    Thank god someone has spelled it out ..The media, all of them are a complete disgrace, even Fran Kelly whom I have looked to over the years for genuine intellectual questioning..but alas

    I have been waiting for someone, anyone, to evaluate each sides policies..not their hairstyles,budgy smugglers or the so called circus..which of course it is..why, because the media reports it instead of attending to matters the the public want to hear about..POLICIES

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