Monday, January 10, 2005

Lack of Trust Can be a Good Thing

I just got home from work, and I'll take it for granted that there has been a deluge of pixels put out on the blogosphere about the Memogate report and the firing of Mary Mapes, the producer responsible for the report that relied on fraudulent documents. A quote from a statement about the report struck me:

"The combination of a new '60 Minutes Wednesday' management team, great deference given to a highly respected producer and the network's news anchor, competitive pressures, and a zealous belief in the truth of the segment seem to have led many to disregard some fundamental journalistic principles," the report said, according to the CBS statement. (Emphasis mine)

Let's leave aside the fact that "fundamental journalistic principles" were ignored in preference to a whole list of pressures that professional journalists have been crying about for years and focus on what I highlighted.

"A zealous belief in the truth of the segment..." Ms. Mapes had been working on this story for five years. Surely that type of dedication is going to draw attention from those who would wish her success. It would also be a sign that she would pounce on any evidence whatsoever that would prove her right. And if that evidence would come along with an iron clad deadline, namely the election, then the skepticism that should be a hallmark of a good reporter would be supressed even further. I heard an interview with former CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg where he expressed his opinion that the liberal consensus of the newsroom probably made true skepticism too hard to maintain, allowing for the initial "error" of airing the story to have a sliver of a chance of being in good faith. It is only a sliver because even if Mary Mapes may have been driven by an excess of zeal, there should have been editors and then Dan Rather to look at the story with cold reason. The secondary failure is theirs.

It has been said about the blogosphere that you can't trust what is written to be free of partisan hackery or out and out ignorance. They are right. The internet is called a "low-trust" environment, nothing should be taken without an unhealthy portion of salt. Don't trust what I write. Only a scant few of the people who read this blog know what type of person I am away from the keyboard. I really am a decent person who honestly tries to approach a topic honestly, but virtually any politically minded hack will say that about themselves.

By approaching what I offer you with a lack of trust, you stand to become better educated by pursuing thought on your own than by anything I can download to you. By not trusting what anyone writes on the internet, you will be more likely to find the truth.

And you would be more like a journalist than Mary Mapes was with the memos.

No comments: