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May 31, 2005
So We Screw Up! Quit Griping!

Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle has had enough of the scandals involving the Exempt Media, especially those involving factual errors and inadequate sourcing. Does he take his fellow journalists to task for their shoddy and, in some cases, dishonest work? No -- he'd rather tell the critics to shut up and listen regardless of whether reporters get the story right:

Look: Newspapers are a human enterprise run by fallible beings. Surgeons make mistakes; accountants make mistakes; journalists make mistakes. As Steven Winn pointed out last week, we apologize too darn much for making mistakes. Of course we're sorry, but the quest for perfection is just that, a quest. We never get there. You never get there. We hate hate hate it when we get facts wrong, but we are actually after bigger game. ...

The media are under attack because we try to find stuff out. We are under attack because we say what we believe to be true. (Even more annoyingly, we are protected by the Constitution.) We are a reality-based institution in a faith-based culture, and we are paying for it. Journalists die doing their jobs, which is more than you can say for lobbyists, TV commentators or corporate lawyers.

The problem is that we are fair-minded. We know that we make mistakes. We want to get better. The fair-minded have no chance against zealots. Zealots lie because the ends justify the means, and we say, "Oh, gosh, we're going to investigate and strive and improve." Are the zealots going to investigate and strive and improve? Of course not: They have an agenda, and the agenda does not include self-assessment. The zealots are working out of the Che Guevara handbook, friends.

The media are not under attack because they "find things out" -- they're under attack because all too often, they don't bother to try to find things out, and instead print what they believe to be true. There's nothing wrong with that in an editorial, but when journalists pass off their beliefs without any factual basis as "news", it winds up misinforming the public.

Both Eason Jordan and Linda Foley probably really believe that the US military has orders somewhere to kill journalists in war zones. That doesn't make it true -- and it shouldn't form the basis of allegations from news organizations or their management without substantiation. Carroll haughtily uses the death of journalists to out-flank critics who haven't faced death, but wants to defend those journalistic critics of American servicemen who die in much greater numbers and percentages trying to defend civilian lives while attacking terrorists and armed enemies. The hypocrisy not only staggers the imagination, but sickens and disgusts as well.

Mary Mapes may have believed that the Killian memos were authentic, but that's because they fit both her preconceived notions of George Bush's TexANG service and her absolute lack of knowledge on military documents. Unlike the Eason Jordan and Linda Foley scandals, however, Mapes and CBS actually hired document examiners prior to publication, who told them not to use the memos -- and they ignored the advice. Unlike Newsweek, who admitted their faulty report, CBS still claims that the Killian memos might eventually be authenticated despite the numerous typographic, format, and factual anachronisms their own document experts have identified.

In the end, Carroll's screed amounts to this: we consumers of the Exempt Media have no business complaining about poor quality and deliberate deceptions perpetrated by its most celebrated members. While the media must be protected by the First Amendment at all times, any attempt by their customers to exercise freedom of speech by criticizing their performance amounts to "zealotry", a conspiracy to destroy them by pointing out their flaws. How dare we question their work!

You really have to read the entire piece to believe it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 31, 2005 12:23 PM

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