May 26, 2004

The New York Times: Truth and Method

Wretchard offers a scathing analysis of the NYT's inadequate attempt at self-criticism. "History" dooms itself to repetition.

The key graf:

The real source of error was more basic: sloppy fact checking, the lack of collateral confirmation for important stories and the absence of an internal mechanism to detect mounting inconsistencies within the developing story. The Times feebly fumbles at this, but fails to understand its significance. It admits it ran stories based on material provided to it, but "the Times never followed up on the veracity of this source or the attempts to verify his claims". The paper found that its own follow up articles on the same story contradicted the own original accounts, but failed to see the significance of it. "Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all." The media inability to make sense of its own story and update the basic account based on new information has been highlighted in Belmont Club's The Wedding Party series. As a consequence, the Times was not even aware that it was refuting itself.

And, of course, that's exactly what it's doing now in its coverage of the reconstruction. It is biased, yes, but everyone is biased. That bias can't become institutionalized if professionals make a dedicated effort to follow proper method. And that other New York publication should take note as well. For the malady includes Sy Hersh's well known predispotiion to employ a conspiracy theoriist's method of limiting his search for evidence to that which supports his hypothesis. And if Hersh is setting the standard of investigative journalism, and Moore the standard of documentary journalism, we oughtn't be that surprised at the resulting train wreck. Max Weber used to say that if your evidence and analysis fail to change your original opinion you've probably done something wrong. It's not a bad heuristic for the NYT to adopt. It would at least be a start.

Posted by Demosophist at May 26, 2004 10:57 AM | TrackBack

I can't imagine anyone working at the nyt has even heard of Max Weber.

As I constantly state in my classes, the problem with the media isn't that they're biased, it's that they're stupid. And now they seem completely comfortable with agenda-based coverage, which if we're lucky will eventually spell the end of the "profession" as we know it.

Posted by: Mud Blood & Beer at May 29, 2004 05:36 PM