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The Lie of Balance

Congrats to friend Grits for Breakfast for reaching some blogging milestones. In the mandatory blogself-reflection that such milestones bring, he makes these observations:

With the exception of occasional investigative articles or self-styled “analyses,” modern journalism too often reverts to a formula where “fairness” and “balance” – to use the famous buzz words – prevail over “honesty” or “truth.” […]
Reporters inevitably feel obligated to print “the other side,” even when they know they’re being misled. (A New York Times reporter famously said he was glad to quit covering Congress because he was tired of sitting around all day on marble slabs waiting for politicians to lie to him.) […]
To me, it’s unethical for a reporter to promote arguments or fact propositions to their readers if they don’t personally believe they’re true, even if they quote “the other side,” for “balance.” A lie ain’t a side of the story, it’s just a lie.
When reporters print a quote and don’t tell readers they think it’s misleading or obfuscatory, which happens ALL the time, IMO they do their readers a serious disservice. And journalists, don’t tell me you “let the facts speak for themselves” – you’re the writer, so you’re speaking. Period. It’s not just “the facts” but the facts you choose to present. Plus you’re the one who researched the story – your readers presumably don’t know as much as you do. […]
Newspapers frequently attribute their circulation decline to the rise of new technology, but IMO their greatest failing hasn’t been a reliance on dead trees, but their insistence on clinging to an outdated and counterproductive approach to newsgathering and storytelling. People read blogs not to get information, for the most part, but to help decipher what news stories mean, a niche that’s only available because of the shortcomings of hundred-year old journalistic canons and customs.
So do not expect what you read here to be “fair” or “balanced” (though I try to be “honest” and “truthful,” and admit mistakes when I make them).

It’s a good point, and one we run up against quite often in drug policy reform. It is what allows the drug czar to continue time and time again to widely distribute propaganda. The press will, for the most part, not fact check the claims or report that the data doesn’t support the conclusions, but rather, at best, add a quote from a drug policy reform organization leader to show a difference of opinion. This point alone makes quality blogs a better place to read about drug policy than most of the other media.
Now, to be sure, bloggers also often have a bit of advantage over other journalists in that they can specialize. I know more about drug policy that any journalist because that’s pretty much all I write about. But that doesn’t excuse the lack of integrity involved in standard media practice of knowingly putting forth misinformation.
So no, you won’t get balance here, either. But you’ll get a lot of truth. (And if I’m wrong, someone will correct me).

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