Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sympathy for the devil

Or rather, for some minor demons who might prefer to be cherubs but they are what they are. That would be our modern class of journalists.

Yes,it seems utterly ridiculous for the purported representative of the readership at the New York Times to be asking whether reporters should bother to point it out when politicians lie. But it compels us to ask how the culture of journalism could end up in a place where that actually seems problematic to its practitioners.

They must inhabit and transmit the political culture, and the fundamental problem of our age is that we have had a breakdown of epistemological consensus. To me, it is a fact that burning fossil fuel increases the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and makes the climate warmer; it is a fact that increased federal deficit spending counteracts recessions and that the stimulus package of 2009, however inadequate, saved millions of jobs; it is a fact that Barack Obama has never "apologized for the United States" and that he has not "slashed military spending" but increased it; it is a fact that taxes have been cut, not raised, under the Obama administration; the health care reform act is not a "government takeover" of health care. And so on.

But conservatives repeatedly, relentlessly, say otherwise. Just about everything they say is objectively false (except for normative statements such as "abortion is murder," which are another category). So, if you are a reporter covering the Romney campaign, for example, every story would have the headline "Mitt Romney lies about X, Y and Z." I believe that would be objective and balanced, but half the country would see it as advocacy journalism and confirmation that the New York Times has a liberal bias. The Times doesn't want to be perceived that way, so what can they do?


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