Sacramento Bee has an ombudsman, a fellow who
is independent of the chain of authority at the
paper, who does not answer to the bosses, and
whose job it is to address the concerns and questions
of the general public from inside the newspaper.
A number of newspapers have such a position, and
they are considered positive elements in keeping
newspapers honest and responsive to their readers.
the Bee's case, the ombudsman, a former New York
Times staffer named Tony Marcano, has been the
ombudsman for the past year. After a somewhat
self-conscious start (it is an unusual job for
a reporter to switch to reporting to the public
about the newspaper itself), he's settled into
the position, and is getting favorable response
from the readership.
recently tackled the subject of the "credibility
crisis" in journalism. The public, for a wide
variety of reasons, don't trust the media any
more, and at least some of that blame lies with
the media itself.
most prevalent complaint is that it has "lost
touch with the people" although in a population
as diverse as America's it's pretty hard to imagine
just where "the people" want to be touched.
was addressing the Bee's journalistic stance specifically,
but American journalism in general is in disgraceful
shape these days.
cannot be perfect. I hold the Sacramento Bee in
high regard, but feel they downplay stories that
I feel are important, and overplay stories that
are, in my estimation, trivial. I shake my head
sadly over some of the comics they choose to run,
and eye the opinion section with jealous regard
for adequate representation of my views. In short,
I'm a typical Bee reader; I like and respect the
newspaper, and watch it like a hawk, ready to
yell if it doesn't behave the way I think it should.
don't bother much with network television news.
It isn't going to tell you much. Cable is even
worse. Faux news sued (successfully) for the right
to lie to its viewers, which pretty much tells
you all you need to know about Faux. (Some folks
may find it odd to discover that I agreed with
the judge in the case, but I find a television
station arguing that it has the right to lie to
its audience faintly better than the notion that
the government should decide if a station is lying
or not -- and punish accordingly.) Radio, outside
of NPR, is a complete disgrace, of course.
CNN (for example) is watchable simply because
I know where their biases lie, and I know I'm
only going to get part of the story. Anyone who
depends solely on CNN for their news isn't getting
isn't a journalistic outlet in the world that
has ALL the news. They pick and choose what you
see and hear, and none, taken alone, is reliable.
As long as there is a wide variety of independent
voices, you can get more complete views of current
is any news outlet perfect. I regard the London
Guardian as the world's finest newspaper, but
they have a real problem with the late Doctor
Atkins and his diet regimen, and have run stories
with headlines about the dangers of Atkins' --
headlines that usually aren't supported by the
stories they cover. Most recently, they somewhat
gleefully reported that Atkins weighed 18 stone
(about 250 pounds) at the time of his death, a
weight that would be considered morbidly obese.
What the story didn't mention is that when the
Doctor was admitted to the hospital a week earlier
with severe brain trauma following a fall, his
weight was a much more reasonable 192. With his
brain nearly dead, his heart wasn't functioning
properly -- in fact, he was in chronic cardiac
failure -- and his fluid levels built up immensely.
The Guardian apparently felt no need to consider
such an obvious point in order to take a potshot
at the late doctor.
that's minor, and can be forgiven. I tend to be
forgiving of such foibles. All journalistic outlets
have biases, all have shortcomings. As long as
there are many different voices, you can work
things out. (One reason I consider such as Michael
Powell, chairman of the FCC, and outfits like
Faux and Clear Channel are menaces to America
is because they want to greatly reduce the variety
of voices on the air).
there is an example of a great newspaper committing
the unforgivable: deliberately lying to me about
newspaper in question was the New York Times,
and the lie was the way in which the newspaper
presented the results of the NORC survey of the
2000 Florida vote.
survey was supposed to be released in late September,
2001, but 9/11 happened, and they decided to hold
off for four months before releasing it. It didn't
seem the time to remind people of why Putsch and
not Gore was president.
it was released, quite a few journalistic outlets
gave it little or no attention, believing that
it made no difference anyway. Others that carried
the story stated that the results were inconclusive.
That is a reasonable appraisal, since most of
the hypothetical standards applied to the recount
had Gore winning with between 60 and 171 votes
out of over five million cast. You can't be certain
in a count that close, and while NORC addressed
the issue of over-votes on the butterfly ballots
(which went three to one Gore over Putsch, a difference
of 46,000 votes), they would not have been legal
ballots and wouldn't be counted any way. However,
NORC did NOT address the tens of thousands of
Floridians who were illegally disenfranchised
by the phony "felons list" that Kathleen Harris,
Jeb Bush and Database Technologies whipped up.
On that list were some 50,000 people who, it turned
out, had never been convicted of felonies. Some
had the same names as convicted felons. Some had
the same first initial and last name. Some had
different names but moved into the same house
a felon once occupied. At least one was convicted
of his felony in 2005. Most -- 80% -- were Democrats.
The study also couldn't count the ballots -- some
20% of the total cast -- that were mysteriously
and quite illegally destroyed in the months following
Bush vs. Gore.
how did the New York Times address this? They
decided to lie to their readers. They ran the
story on page one under the headline, "Study of
Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not
Cast the Deciding Vote."
they did, and the study indicates that they did.
In fact, so does the news story. You had to read
down about 800 words to find it, but they show
the different criteria used. In every case, they
showed Gore winning, if only by the very thinnest
of margins. Only one scenario led to a Bush win,
and that was the one in which only the four counties
that Gore contested had recounts. The Florida
Supreme Court struck that idea down as being a
little TOO selective.
was the only circumstance under which Putsch would
have won legally.
the Supremes DID decide the Florida vote, and
the NORC survey suggests they did so wrongly.
writers make mistakes. Recently, a Guardian headline
read, "Kansas board to allow evolution to be taught."
Kansas is a strange place, but it isn't THAT strange.
Although it's working on it. I read the news article,
and discovered that Kansas had decided to allow
the silly nonsense once known as Creationism and
now called "Intelligent Design" to be taught.
the strange antics of hinterlanders thousands
of miles away make such a mistake forgivable and
New York Times headline went beyond the realm
of being just a mistake. Someone in the paper
decided the American people couldn't handle the
truth, and set it up so a casual reader would
come away with the entirely wrong impression.
expect journalists to make mistakes, and editors
to set inexplicable priorities. I also know that
my criticisms are subjective, and as often as
not, the problem lies with me and not the paper.
I can consider bias -- my own and the sources --
and allow for it.
a paper that is accurate and honest 99.999% of
the time, but lies to me on a critical .0001%
of stories is useless, and worse than useless.
Gleeful right wingers on the net still post that
misleading headline to "show" that Putsch won
legitimately, and as far as I know, the Times
has never tried to correct the error. If it was
an error, which I doubt.
they need an ombudsman.
can watch Faux and allow for them being Rupert
clones who WANT to lie to me. Only a fool thinks
Rush informs; he's there to amuse and provoke.
Jon Stewart is the funniest man in America, but
he is a comedian and not a journalist.
if a paper declares itself to be the avatar of
journalism, and strives mightily for true fairness
and honesty in reporting, and then tells a small
lie on a big story and never corrects it, that's
not something to forgive. I simply do not trust
the NY Times. It's not the contempt I have for
the Murdoch, Scaife and Moon organs. But it's
there: don't trust the Times. When the chips are
down, they will lie to you.
far more dangerous than the comically blatant
propaganda of O'Reilly or Hannity.
Posted: March 31, 2004