The recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicating that the anti-health care reform disinformation campaign seems to be getting traction raises serious questions about how the news media have been covering this story. (For example, 45 percent of those polled are buying into the “death panel” lie that health care reform will allow the government to stop providing medical care for the elderly.)
It would seem that coverage focusing on detailed analysis of the actual provisions in the health care bills doesn’t make for good TV. On the other hand, interviews with militia members explaining the finer points of health care policy apparently do.
There’s a great post on Daily Kos that gets at this question. Here’s the key piece:
…the media shouldn’t feel any obligation to treat the disinformation campaign as if it were a serious attempt at discourse. There’s nothing wrong with calling liars liars. In fact, there’s no better way to earn the respect of the public than by telling the truth, as (Washington Post’s) Montgomery and Kornblut do later in the article when they dismiss the death panel nonsense as “false.”
What’s really happening here is that Fox’s screwball view of journalistic integrity (“fair and balanced” instead of “honest and accurate”) has infected too many minds.
Journalism should not be about giving fair treatment to the subjects of news reports, journalism should be about uncovering the real story, whatever it might be. Fairness and balance have nothing to do with it.
If one side is telling most of the lies, you can’t be balanced (as in “both sides are lying…”) in reporting that fact. You can only be accurate — and that’s all that reasonable people should ask.
I think it would be a great service to us all if the broadcast media would talk about the real policies being proposed, rather than the usual practice of going for the most outrageous visual or reporting the most extreme lie without an accompanying fact check. There are, however, a few in the media who are doing a good job of exposing the misinformation that seems to dominate so much coverage.
Talking Points Memo posted a clip from the Daily Show that highlights Jon Stewart’s interview with Betsy McCaughey, the originator of the “death panels”. He completely dismantles the lies she has been peddling about the end of life counseling section of the healthcare legislation. Notice how she avoids looking at the bill when he asks her to read the actual language. It takes Jon Stewart’s brilliant comedy – and his unwavering refusal to accept BS — to give us a compelling illustration of the role that the news media should be playing when covering these important policy debates.