A year or so back, when a scandal hit NPR regarding funding integrity in the higher-ups, it was eventually discovered that the “damning evidence” in that case was in fact almost completely fabricated. Amazingly, the individual responsible faced no repercussions for presenting an outrageously false accusation. Then, just a few weeks ago, a report by This American Life on worker conditions at Foxconn, the Chinese plant where Apple makes many of its products, was retracted after TAL discovered that it was “partially fabricated”. The individual who provided TAL with the report claimed innocence, stating “What I do is not journalism”.
Douglas Adams’ books may not have been philosophy, for that matter, but he wrote “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we have to at least consider the possibility” that it’s a duck.
The line between fact and fiction is blurring more and more every day. News shows have shifted within my lifetime– which, despite my griping, is not terribly long– from a cold, impersonal reading of the facts to a cavalcade of entertainment and showmanship that offers excruciatingly little in the way of actual information. Fact-checking is an afterthought; what matters now is being the first to break a scandal, and to hell with whether or not it’s actually true. The phrase “style over substance” has lost its meaning because the style is the substance. There’s nothing underneath it.
But the only thing that really makes me think there’s still hope yet is that, in both of the cases cited above, the agencies who were deceived owned up to it. I heard about the NPR thing first on NPR. While I haven’t been listening to This American Life for years now, the revelation of the deception occurred when they titled their entire show for the week “Retraction”. You don’t see that kind of self-policing anymore. You don’t see journalists second-guessing their informants and looking for confirmation.
When I was in high school, I read through “All The President’s Men” for a reading assignment, and that was around the time I got asked to be the editor of the school newspaper. Granted, that’s twenty years behind me now, but I like to think it taught me to appreciate journalistic integrity a lot more than some of the people who’re on the air now. And while I’m not making claims to be a media professional at all, I can promise you that if I’m going to make a claim here, I’m going to fact-check it first. It’s long been my policy to cite sources when I post about breaking events, and to only link to trusted sources. And if I’m the last man on the web doing it, well, then I’m probably going to have a really small number of trusted sources to link to, now won’t I?