Generally, I’m a big fan of trying to put a human face on a complex problem. But reporters playing the anecdote game would do well to consider Alex Koppelman’s recent New Yorker piece, “Why Obamacare Might Help the Man on Fox.” Koppelman reported on a couple with two sons in the market for new insurance. They seem like the perfect couple for a story about the Affordable Care Act—except they aren’t. The dad was a lobbyist for the Association of Mature Americans, a conservative alternative to the AARP (liberal groups, too, have “ordinary people” they can tap as anecdotes to buttress their side of the story when a reporter calls.). Koppelman noted that Fox News reporter Jim Angle, in his story featuring the couple, “does not appear to have ever disclosed” the dad’s work to viewers.
On November 3, The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn wrote about another “poster child for the Obamacare cancellation story” whose story, upon closer examination, “defies quick and easy description” (ahem, CBS News and Fox News, and, we’d add, NBC and Marketplace). The bottom line is (and it’s so simple, so fundamental, it almost sounds ridiculous): reporters need to vet people and their claims carefully before showcasing them. Anything less is indefensibly poor journalism.
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