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Dan Jacob

The IDIA Group

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Should newspapers be truth vigilantes?

Arthur Brisbane, Public Editor for the New York Times wrote an interesting article OpEd today (January 12, 2012) asking "Should the New York Times Be a Truth Vigilante?"

The article can be found here: http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/should-the-times-be-a-truth-vigilante/

In a time where people are being bombarded with information, what role (if any) should newspapers play in correcting un-informed, egregiously inaccurate statements? What implications would this have?

To quote Brisbane:

"...[People] look to The [New York] Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.
Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here?"

Interested to hear your thoughts on this one...

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  • Jan 23 2012: I'd reframe the idea as "Fact Vigilantes" rather than "Truth Vigilantes".
    • Jan 27 2012: Cheers Dave, narrowing the scope of the question in that way has helped me answer the larger one.

      The following statement is true:
      the US military spends millions of dollars annually funding entomologists.
      “What, in the name of (insert preferred deity/profanity here), are they doing?” You may well ask. I did. We should have asked a mountain of questions first ‘though. We should have checked our facts. Here’s some we could check before we start asking other questions:
      1.Do they?
      2.How many million?
      3.What’s an entomologist?
      Let’s imagine we have complete co-operation from the US military. Let’s imagine we can afford the army of forensic accountants. Let’s imagine the relevant curriculum was taught and the accrediting bodies did their job. Let’s imagine we asked all the relevant questions, to the right people and in the right places; and got sufficient answers to establish the truth of the statement.
      You could even just ask George W. Korch Jr, Ph.D. at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response, if he’s still there (just ask for George Korch, you can drop the Lieutenant Colonel).

      Cool, so what’s he going to say? How, yes, millions have been spent protecting you from disease vectors, in bio-defence and other things vital to national security. Interestingly, it’s quite possible he doesn’t know about the “other things”.
      So who can find out for you? A truth vigilante? A blogger, a newspaper, Fox? For reasons that should be obvious to you by now: they can’t. Let alone should.
      Good news America! There are people that can. They’re not truth vigilantes. They’re highly paid and motivated truth bureaucrats. They’re not self-appointed. You’re about to elect the most important one in the world. Choose wisely please.

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