Why Now?
Sunday, January 22, 2006
  The Desire For Facts In Reporting
Everyone is aware of the open warfare that broke out when the new Washington Post ombudsman failed to verify her facts and implicated Democrats in the Abramoff scandal. While this sort of misbehavior is all too familiar coming from the regular media reporters and pundits, it makes the position of ombudsman irrelevant when facts in question are not verified.

As Avedon Carol of The Sideshow points out, Ms. Howell still hasn't completely corrected the error. I would question the wisdom of putting her in current position when her analytical abilities are so obviously deficient. Ms. Howell fails to appreciate that the facts are in the public record and available to the multitude on the Internet. An analysis of the political contributions of the affected tribes before and after they hired Abramoff is not complicated and requires no higher mathematics. The records show a reduction in funding to Democrats and an increase in funding for Republicans after a tribe hired Abramoff. It is no great leap to say that Abramoff was bad for Democrats and good for Republicans. Of all news organizations in the country, I would think that the Washington Post would know to "follow the money".

Steve Gilliard of The News Blog makes the point, somewhat forcibly, that not complaining about errors in fact is not a strategy for success. The media ignores accuracy complaints that are reasonable and factual. If the media would like to raise the tenor of the interaction, they should ignore those who scream and deal with those who present polite requests for accuracy. By bending over backwards to mollify the screamers, the media has forced people to scream to be heard.

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has agreed to attend a conference being set up by the Washington Post to discuss the issues surrounding this eruption of discontent. I would hope she stresses that all people were asking for was accuracy. When a blogger makes an outrageous statement, the first thing that happens is a request for a link to verify the statement. If this is standard operation procedure on blogs, one would wonder why as much can't be expected from a major media outlet? One could conclude that there are higher standards on the blogs.

PSotD is a bit annoyed that Ms. Howell was apparently unaware of the duties of the ombudsman. I, too, would question her understanding, as she appears to have assumed that she was writing a media column, not dealing with reader complaints. I won't blame Ms. Howell for this problem, but the individual who gave her the position. You don't give someone a new job without explaining what is expected of them. She does seem to be a bit naïve about the security provided by her two-year contract as I feel certain there is a clause or ten that makes it possible for the newspaper to fire her at anytime.

Finally, Ms. Carol cautions about the effect of swearing in any heated debate. I agree that it is often used as an excuse to avoid the real issues, and readers may have noticed that I rarely swear because of this.

I would like to point out that having been in the military and law enforcement, it is not because I don't have the vocabulary. I have a choice collection of words and phrases in multiple languages that are quite capable of starting a fight across much of the world. You don't want to be at a loss for words when a Greek taxi driver is attempting extort money from you, or to rid yourself of annoying vendors in Bangkok. In addition to words, it is wise to study gestures, if for no other reason than to avoid offending people who may have guns and badges. These are a form of weapon to be utilized when effective, and not wasted on the mundane.

I would also caution against confusing ignorance, which is correctable, with mental deficiency, which is not. I would point out that it is much easier to explain your view to those of low achievement than the willfully ignorant, especially if they consider themselves "a professional".

I prefer to start affable and escalate. About response five I admit I make it rather obvious that I have a major store of words not heard in Disney movies.


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