The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Judy Dean's off-the-record marathon - we get to hear about it when?

When folks wonder why users don't trust the media [1], they might think of the case of the laconic (where politics is concerned) Judith Dean (aka Judy Dean, aka Dr Judith Steinberg).

Mrs Dean, who, notoriously, spouses it grudgingly for her other half, was whisked into the Hawkeye State for a crassly mock-presidential appearance with Howard at the exit of a plane (not the one she flew in on) and the briefest of so that's what she sounds like spots at a couple of rallies.

So far, so good. For the problem, we must turn to an unlikely guardian of journalistic integrity, the New York Sun. Their guy, Josh Gerstein, (January 20) reports near civil war between the boys on the bus on the question whether Judy Dean should give what amounted to a 90 minute, off-the-record, press briefing as they travelled between Davenport and Cedar Rapids.

The reason the Dean hacks gave for no quotes was that she was
a private person

Most of the journos were just so gosh-darn pleased to get some face time with the elusive doc that they made no objection.

Some of the journos [2], however, thought she was the story du jour, and she should give them on-the-record goodness. One of them, Glen Johnson of the Boston Globe, refused to budge from the bus. So everyone else got out of that bus and into another one, and did the top secret chin-wag there.

Now, it seems pretty clear that, had there been no objection, we suckers would have been none the wiser about La Dean's cosy chat.

And, as it is, the Poor Man's Nexis for "off the record" "judy dean" shows only the NY Times piece linked above - the link on Google is a dud! - and the IHT reprint.

If this is right (big if!), by the rest of the US media, the Dean bus incident never happened!

It doesn't have to be airbrushed from history, because it never became history!

Does it matter? After all, journos are doing off-the-record interviews all the time, with Joe Public being none the wiser. The spat was just over-tired hacks with histories and agendas getting a wee bit fractious.

What interests me is, firstly, the (almost) non-coverage of the spat. Secondly, that there appears to be room for a difference of opinion on whether the Judy interview should have been OTR. Thirdly, that it underlines that journalists do not have a fiduciary relationship with their readers.

Or a doctor-patient one - I'm not sure which is the better non-analogy. For instance, you're a patient, and, of two treatments, Drug A and Drug B, your doctor recommends Drug A; if you find out that the doctor was getting financially rewarded by the makers of Drug A every time one of his patients took a course of it - and hadn't told you - you'd feel aggrieved, even if Drug A was the correct choice, medically speaking.

Why? Because you were entitled to the doctor's unbiased opinion, and he did not give it.

From journalists, the reader is entitled to squat. If he likes what he reads, he comes back. If not, hasta la vista. If you think the journo is making the stuff up, that's a reason not to come back. Or not - he may be a funny guy.

On this very blog, we've had, merely in the last couple of months, the notable tales of Robert Novak (on South Dakota ballot-box stuffing) and (the delightfully named) Con Coughlin with various Iraq WMD intelligence fantasies [3]. Complete garbage, so far as one call tell. And a very small sample of the crap daily dished out to us, in circumstances where external quality control is difficult, and internal...

Let us not forget (piece of January 14) that that pearl of American journalism, the New York Times, does not have a fact-checking department.

Every man his own fact-checker - and, to the extent a fact can't be checked (if only by the a million flies can't be wrong principle inherent in the Nexis dump, or its Poor Man equivalent), one has to treat it as a hypothesis. Or a gag.

If you believed what they write, you'd think that most - a good many, at least - journos honestly think they have some function in the polity not a million miles away from a doctor-patient relationship. Rather than merely the equivalent of selling soap powder. (Except that soap power has to comply with all sorts of government regulation on quality and harm to consumers, whereas journalism - not so much.)

[Why do I believe Josh Gerstein? I don't. But I'm thinking that, if he's lying, he's going to get his ass kicked six ways from Sunday by his colleagues. And - well, there must be so many safer stories for a journo to make up. So his story just about passes the balance of probabilities test. Always subject to falsification by further evidence.

Karl Popper rules!]

  1. Whereas I'm appalled that the suckers trust the media at all...

  2. The honour roll:
    The other journalists who declined to participate in the secret confab with Judith Dean were John Harris of the Washington Post, Anne Hoy of Newsday, and Tom Fitzgerald of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  3. One for each side of the pond - fair and balanced...

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