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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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Kerry channels Joe McCarthy - kinda: Big Media flunk the test

Off the top of my head, the numbers were 205, 81 and 57. The number of Commies or security risks or whatever that Senator Joseph McCarthy said were polluting the State Department back in February 1950.

Soon to be Dem candidate for Prez John 'The Mummy' Kerry has, it seems, had a similar problem with numbers. And the most prestigious organs of the US media failed to spot it.

Let's not go silly with that analogy: in Kerry's case, I think we're talking about some staffer failing to the check the facts before briefing the boss before the California debate: no ulterior motive suspected. These things happen.

Ann Althouse of UW-M [1] made the spot.

Kerry put at 111 the number of those released from death row as a result of being proved innocent by DNA evidence; the ACLU site says the number is 13.

CJR's Campaign Desk - which I criticised on February 28 in relation to a piece on something said by Rep Porter Goss - links Althouse's piece.

Both cases relate to the same question: the responsibility of the media to check statements of fact made by politicians, and to correct those that are false or misleading.

My main point in the earlier piece was that to do this ran contrary to the principles of objective journalism to which most American hacks seem happy to continue to do obeisance.

The Kerry example was a slam-dunk: a bit of cyber-shoe-leather and a fellow civilian like (I'm assuming) Althouse could nail down the error [2]. Checking out the Porter Goss statement would have been much trickier. There's a continuum here.

Personally, I say, Check, check and check again. The vital thing is for journos to get into the mental groove of checking, so that it's the decision not to check which needs justifying.

And, anyway, isn't that what you have eager young interns for?

A few years of institutionalised checking by Big Media and - who knows? - pols might stop being content to spout any old bollocks, and feel impelled to have their speeches factchecked before they deliver them!

  1. Acronym-wise, a brief mooch suggests that UWM is the Milwaukee site, UW-M the Madison site of the University of Wisconsin.

    (Bonus McCarthy connection...)

  2. Many civilians could; she did. However easy in theory, you still have to make the play.

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