by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Mollie Hemingway explains in an essay for The Federalist website why the media’s truth-telling problems extend far beyond the recent hubbub surrounding NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ strained relationship with the truth.
Some journalists have responded to the Williams spectacle by running defenses they’d never imagine using on others — such as that Williams had ordinary false memory syndrome. Others are just waiting for him to be pushed out or quietly get back to work.
Williams lied. I’m not defending him. But in a world of serial exaggerators and distortion artists, he’s the least of mainstream media’s problems.
Exaggeration and distortion is de rigueur for many political journalists.
Exaggeration is kind of what our media do. Now, part of this is defensible. At one of my first newspaper jobs, I would write unbelievably spare copy that accurately described the event or situation I was reporting on. My editor used to take his big red pen and scrawl, “So what?” across my copy, double underlined. It was a great edit. I had to learn how to make a story interesting and how to pull out the parts a reader would actually care about.
But there’s another kind of exaggeration that is indefensible. Take the story of a low-level staffer of a back-bench Member of Congress sharing some mildly critical remarks about the First Family’s comport. The Washington Post ran more than a dozen stories on the matter. One of them was a story digging up dirt from the staffer’s high school years, written by “foreign affairs” reporter Terrence McCoy. Other media outlets camped outside of her parents home.
Exaggeration is what the media do with every story, whether it’s Ebola, invented vaccination battles, climate change, and any slight mis-step any right-of-center politician ever has the misfortune of even thinking of uttering. It’s what the past few years of War on Women hysteria have been, from the complete and utter freakout over the Komen Foundation trying to extract itself from funding Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, to the Sandra Fluke saga.
There’s a flip side to the exaggeration, which is distorted downplaying. This is what the media do when they suppress stories that make them look bad, whether it’s Kermit Gosnell’s abortion and infanticide clinic, Jonathan Gruber’s comments on Obamacare, the IRS’s admitted — admitted! — targeting of conservative groups, or Bill Clinton’s close ties to a pedophile. …
… Brian Williams has a lying problem, granted, but the media’s problem with truth telling is much more harmful.
Perhaps this is because today’s reporters spend much less time focusing on ethics.