November 7th, 2009


Saturday Greenwald

"...I'm obviously ambivalent about the issues of media responsibility raised by all of this. It's difficult to know exactly how the competing interests should be balanced - between disclosing what one has heard in an evolving news story and ensuring some minimal level of reliability and accuracy. But whatever else is true, news outlets - driven by competitive pressures in the age of instant 'reporting' - don't really seem to recognize the need for this balance at all. They're willing to pass on anything they hear without regard to reliability - to the point where I automatically and studiously ignore the first day or so of news coverage on these events because, given how these things are 'reported,' it's simply impossible to know what is true and what isn't. In fact, following initial media coverage on these stories is more likely to leave one misled and confused than informed. Conversely, the best way to stay informed is to ignore it all - or at least treat it all with extreme skepticism - for at least a day.

"The problem, though, is that huge numbers of people aren't ignoring it. They're paying close attention - and they're paying the closest attention, and forming their long-term views, in the initial stages of the reporting. Many people will lose their interest once the drama dissolves - i.e., once the actual facts emerge. Put another way, a large segment of conventional wisdom solidifies based on misleading and patently false claims coming from major media outlets. I don't know exactly how to define what the balance should be, but particularly for politically explosive stories like this one, it seems clear that media outlets ought to exercise far more restraint and fact-checking rigor than they do. As it is, it's an orgy of rumor-mongering, speculation and falsehoods that play a very significant role in shaping public perceptions and enabling all sorts of ill-intentioned exploitation."