Taking Voice One Step Too Far

Campaign Desk has frequently urged reporters to assume what has been called “reportorial authority” by comparing partisan he said/she said debates to known facts. But today the Associated Press’ Jennifer Loven takes it one step too far, by asserting her own voice to declare opinion as fact.

Loven’s slip-up occurs in an analysis piece on just which bold policy proposal President Bush might push hardest for in his second term. She writes:

Observers also see a legacy-building opportunity in Bush’s proposal to increase Social Security’s long-term solvency by partially privatizing it. “He could really make his mark there,” said Lee Edwards, an analyst of presidential decision-making at the conservative Heritage Foundation. [Emphasis ours.]

No one knows if the partial privatization of Social Security will “increase Social Security’s long-term solvency” — that’s opinion, in this case opinion held mainly by conservatives, and it is an assertion untested by experience. Loven properly identifies the expert being quoted, as a Heritage Foundation analyst. And, since the privatization of Social Security is a Bush priority, it only makes sense to explain why Bush-backers think it merits implementation. Yet the way Loven writes her piece — using her own voice to declare that privatization will, ipso facto, lead to the “long-term solvency” of Social Security — readers could be left with the impression that there is no debate on this hotly-contested issue.

Campaign Desk is not suggesting that a token liberal be trotted out to counter every point made by a conservative. What we are saying is that if a partisan is pushing a highly debatable position on a question of a policy not yet tested in real life, then reporters should make sure the reader knows that the partisan’s opinion is just that — opinion.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.