Brendan Nyhan, whose work on the difficulty of correcting political misinformation formed the basis of my story on that subject, congratulates The New York Times for its article today on the origin of the death panel rumors (which CJR’s Megan Garber has also praised). Writes Nyhan:
This story is a remarkable achievement given the pressure for artificial “balance” in news reporting. Let’s hope the rest of the media follows suit — the condemnation has to be near-universal to change the incentives for promoting misinformation.
As I read the Times piece myself, I thought it could have been even stronger at points. Betsy McCaughey’s 1994 attack on Bill Clinton’s health care reform effort, for example, wasn’t just “hotly disputed,” it was later disowned by an editor of The New Republic, the magazine that published it. And though this isn’t in the hands of reporters Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes, the Web headline on the Times story—“False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots”—is blunter than the one that appeared on the front page of the print edition, “Getting to the Source of the ‘Death Panel’ Rumor.”
Still, it’s a good story, one that pushes back against false information and shows how that information took root. We should have limited expectations about the impact this sort of fact-checking will have at this point in the health care debate, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.