Say it ain’t so
Thank you for the article “Who cares if it’s true?” in the March/April edition.

During my 30-year career as a daily news reporter in suburban New York (including beats in Newark and Jersey City), I came to believe that my superiors were increasingly more concerned about who said something was true rather than whether it was true or not.

Thus the reader is frequently left with the confusing “he said” point vs counterpoint reportage.

R. Clinton Taplin
South Nyack, New York

Seemingly forgotten in the internet journalism age is the psychological rule of primacy: The first fact someone learns about a topic, person or event can be very difficult to later “correct.” People have a tendency to cling to first-learned facts even if exposed to overwhelming evidence to the contrary later. The assumption that it’s somehow okay to post “news” without fact-checking because if it’s false it’ll later be debunked ignores this phenomenon and does a real disservice to readers. Combine this with professional opinion manipulators trying to rig the public debate for reasons ranging from “viral,” corporate, advertising to political issues, and you have a system inviting abuse. Digital “journalists” who subscribe to the post-fast-post-first mentality really aren’t worthy of the name. And outsourcing your own credibility to news aggregators doesn’t solve the problem.

Lawrence Pearlman
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If current media outlets today think people really consider their news truth . . . they are living in their own world (i.e., Hollywood). Freedom of speech allows for variations of one’s independent take on current news, and our world is large enough we allow room for error. Just don’t expect people to believe and feel inspired by what we hear as “news.” We free people require truth, though there is little in the news arena . . . it is now up to individuals to delve into various news media outlets . . . gather information, then attempt to ascertain the truth of the matter. Very difficult, however we grin and bear it . . . and try to find reason out of the madness.

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Thumbs up, Gannett
As a longtime Gannett critic, this move deserves a measure of applause (“Place a bet on USA Today,” CJR, March/April). But it cannot be read as a business model available to all American newspapers. Given that media corporations have spun off their newspapers into different divisions from broadcast, and given that few of those corporations have a national kingpin like USA Today, Gannett’s model appears to be suited only to itself . . . and no one else. Still, even in Gannett-only towns, the prospect of better local news coverage is enticing.

Denny Wilkins
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Not invited or never showed up?
Having read Alexis Sobel Fitts’ March/April article about Fox News twice (“And from the left . . . Fox News”), I remain puzzled.

She offers both positive and negative information about Fox but, by comparison, only barbed asides for MSNBC. Leaving quibbling aside, it’s unfair to complain that there “the debates happen with villains who are not in the studio.” I have lost count of the number of times Rachel Maddow has asserted that her show invited X or Y on to debate the issue, to no avail. Sometimes she adds that she would welcome these folks at any time, so far with few takers.

If conservatives are afraid to appear with hosts who aren’t ideological allies or at least beltway bloviators, is that MSNBC’s fault?

More importantly for an article in CJR, Fitts never raises the question of factual accuracy, an area where Fox hosts as well as guests often fail miserably. Media monitoring groups could offer many examples of dishonest coverage on Fox, but here are two that are hard to explain, so Fox hopes people simply forget:

1. During Wisconsin demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker, Fox ran footage of unruly protesters, bolstering the idea that they were contemptible. The problem was that there were palm trees in the background—in Wisconsin in the winter.

2. During the 2008 campaign, some daytime Fox host referred to the Obamas giving each other a “terrorist fist bump” to celebrate how well things were going. Effectively accusing a leading politician of treasonous support for al-Qaeda was beyond any boundaries of journalistic accuracy or decency. The response of the mainstream media then was amusingly subtle: In the weeks that followed, they printed without commentary pictures of sports teammates, Dubya, and members of the US military giving each other these un-American signals. I have yet to hear about a Fox apology.

If CJR’s goal is “to speak out for what’s right, fair, and decent,” it should be less concerned about how much opinion airs on MSNBC than about how much factual misinformation airs on Fox, the video equivalent of the worst excesses of the Hearst press.

The Editors