Post of the Day — Aug. 16, 2013
Note from Dan: I believe this is Edward Martin’s first post, and it’s a good one. He made it as a comment on this thread, which was a letter to the editor that ran in Wednesday’s paper.
“This is a note to you and The Roanoke Times. While we should all respect different opinions and, as journalists, promote lively discussion and airing of them, newspapers increasingly have an obligation to do some vetting of letters to the editor, comments and, in stories, sources and their statements.
Many, and perhaps most of these posts, contain outright lies, distortions and blatant political propaganda, and should not be run without at least a note from the editor (or columnist) pointing them out. The out-of-whole-cloth fabrications about Obama’s use of Air Force One, for example, should carry a note from you or the paper saying, ‘These statements are false, and here are the facts.’
Newspapers (and magazines, for which I now work, after 30 years as a newspaper reporter and editor) should not rely on other commenters to post links to fact-checking sites, for instance, to correct blatantly false statements. I recognize this isn’t practical for comments, but it certainly is for printed letters to the editor.
I read – as I did this morning – ridiculously false statements in those letters, which are printed without clarification or rebuttal. We also see in virtually every story, particularly on politics, sources allowed to make outrageously false statements – black is white, hot is cold, the sun shines at midnight – with no rebuttal by the writer, in a misguided sense of “fairness.”
We seem to think merely accompanying such statements with attribution – ” … he said” – covers our butts. Not so. Starting in the ’80s, conservative political strategists began a well-planned and frankly, brilliant, campaign of setting up the straw man of “the liberal media” in order to goad newspapers into giving them a free ride for their lies and distortions, in effect saying, “see, we’re running your ridiculous allegations even though we know they’re not true, so that proves we’re not liberal…”
Many of these comments on your column above are not spontaneous, but rather intentionally planted falsehoods and talking points from sources such as Crossroads GPS, which knows people will pick them up and post them. Sadly, as you and I know, unsophisticated and poorly informed readers often make no distinction about the source of their information.
I’ve often had people quote advertisements to me, explaining that ‘I read it in your newspaper…’ Sorry for the lengthy post, but this is a major issue for journalists that no one seems willing to address.”