Media who Abet Ignorance

As shocking as it is that 27% of Americans believe that President Barack Obama was probably or likely not born in the US, and 20% believe he is Muslim, evidence to the contrary, it is just as troubling that broadcast and print media continue to report this as "news".

It is self-evident there is something wrong in American society today . . . a society which can throw up an influential 'tea party' movement completely indifferent to history and considered inquiry, as well as a mess of inbecilic demagogues.

But the question posed by David Winer (a visiting scholar at NYU in journalism in a tweet yesterday) was why is CNN continuing to run this story? Why are American media giving credence to wing-nuts like Frank Graham, son of evangelist Billy, who only grudgingly accepts that Obama, although "born a Muslim" (now isn't that a lovely bit of sophistry), has embraced Christianity?

Part of the answer is simply the decline of truth-telling in some media in favour of celebrity or 'spectacle' political reporting. The rest is filled in by Jay Rosen in an interview in The Economist (hat tip to colleague Brendan Hodgson for the reference):

Suppose the forces that want to convince Americans that Barack Obama is a Muslim or wasn't born in the United States start winning, and more and more people believe it. This is a defeat for journalism—in fact, for verification itself. Neutrality and objectivity carry no instructions for how to react to something like that. They aren't "wrong", they're just limited. The American press does not know what to do when neutrality, objectivity, balance and "report both sides" reach their natural limits. And so journalists tend to deny that there are such limits. But with this denial they've violated the code of the truth-teller because these limits are real. See the problem?

Sometimes it is better to ignore neutrality when "neutrality" means abetting ignorance.

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