Of Fact Checking and Full Disclosure

There’s no measure by which anyone would call me a crusader. By nature, I’m generally a consensus seeker and not apt to rock the boat. However, as I continue to pursue a career in journalism, I find I’ve developed a greater sensitivity to pieces that rely on sloppy research or articles that fail to note some significant fact that might cause the reader to react differently to the information as presented.

I mention that because I felt compelled today to write a letter to The Economist regarding two articles in the current issue. The letter is reprinted in full below:

In the United States, in the article “Of snipers and sniping”, the author states that “Obama-phile” media “cravenly neglected” to point out that Barack Obama was lying by stating that he was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. The truth of the matter is that the University of Chicago Law School regards “Senior Lecturers” as professors, despite the difference in titles (citation: CNN: “Obama was a professor”).

Additionally, in the “Lexington” editorial, the work of Arthur Brooks (which was also cited last week by the American conservative pundit George Will) is presented as if it were a bias-free expression of facts on the differing levels of happiness between liberals and conservatives. George Will noted in his column that Mr. Books is a registered Independent, but both Will and The Economist failed to disclose was that Mr. Brooks is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a columnist for the New York Sun, and a provider of articles to the National Review, all institutions with strong conservative leanings (citation: Too Sense). Surely the editors of a publication like The Economist understand the political reasons that both academics and journalists might register as Independents in America, despite their own personal beliefs.

What’s funny about these two cases is that in the first, the Economist simply parroted a competing presidential campaign’s spin without apparently doing any individual fact checking and in the second, the work of a person that shows some strong ideological leanings was presented uncritically. If the media is supposed to be trusted, it should be more than a mouth piece for those who yell the loudest nor should it provide cover for the advancement of idealogical points of view without disclosing relevant background information. What indeed would be more craven than that?

Michael Preston
San Francisco, CA


~ by uvasig on April 1, 2008.

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