Monday, June 17, 2013

PolitiFact Needs To Refocus

Erik Gunn, another one of the few remaining journalists in the area, wrote a thought-provoking piece about the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's PolitiFact.  Like most of us, Gunn's not a big fan, and explains why:
The piece demonstrated the classic PolitiFact obsession with trees at the expense of understanding the forest, investing 800 words in the process.

Why not save space by simply showing the governor’s “cherry-picking” in a chart that presents the his quote and then lists conflicting business climate surveys and their findings?

Meanwhile, a much more far-reaching issue – and one that would have admittedly required much more investigation to reach a definitive judgment – would be critically examining just how accurate and predictive such climate surveys are, versus how much they are bent by ideology.

To Umhoefer’s credit, he didn’t ignore the frequent criticism that such surveys are ideologically bound and do more to promote corporate self-interest than community economic well-being. But having noted the criticism, the story kissed off the critics: PolitiFact wasn’t going to weigh in on that issue.

Yet those surveys can deeply influence political discourse, whether in a campaign or a legislative session. So assessing their validity would seem much more beneficial to readers and society than simply calling out a particular pol’s self-serving cherry-picking of those reports – especially when readers have no clue as to whether the surveys are even worth anything.

Why not a detailed assessment of the surveys themselves, looking at their conclusions and rankings when compared with actual, objective data on how states are doing in terms of economic well-being? Which surveys actually offer some value in predicting actual state performance and outcomes? And which ones are consistently wrong?
Gunn goes on with an exchange he had with Greg Borowski, the PolitiFact editor. Borowski takes a cop out on the issue, claiming that they put links on the online article so that people will investigate the issue on their own, if they choose to do so.

That explanation is unacceptable on a couple of levels. One is that the online links don't work well on the printed edition of the paper. That is hundreds of thousands of people that aren't getting those links daily and are not able to do their own investigations. This leaves them in a position of being forced to take what the paper gives them at face value.

Secondly, Borowski probably understands that not everyone is going to have the time, energy and/or ability to check out everything on their own.  Besides, they are the reporters and journalists.  It's their job to do the reporting, not just give some selected links and expect people to do their work for them.

While I understand Gunn's point, I think where the issue lies is with the fact that it's still the corporate media.  The Journal Sentinel's op-ed section is filled with the tripe that comes from paid corporate hacks like Christian Schneider and Mike Nichols.  They also pollute the place with ghost writers like Aaron Rodriguez who do nothing more than regurgitate some politicians or political party's talking points  in order to curry political favors.

And there are papers, including MJS, that will use the propaganda that is spewed by such front groups like Wisconsin Reporter, MacIver Institute and Media Trackers and treat it as legitimate news stories.

Until the mainstream media - whether it be print, TV, and especially radio - decides to reinvest in itself and get back to the job they are supposed to be doing, I wouldn't take anything reported as being objective.

Objectionable? Probably. Objective? Not so much.


  1. “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” ― Joseph Goebbels

    1. Repeat the lie long enough, It becomes fact in the feeble mind.. Goebbels

  2. We get it, Capper, you want liberal-only news.

    1. It's funny how RWNJs like Blaska complain that reality and truth is always liberal.

  3. No, he, we, want media who stay objective. And don't give me the liberal bias tripe. That was not the case. The only unobectivity began when conservative groups started buying up the media.

  4. Liberal news, what an interesting concept. I look forward to seeing it sometime. In the meantime we're stuck with the corporate processed variety, a sort of journalistic Cheese-Whiz, to coin a dairy state metaphor.