OpinionMeister

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Why MSM Misses Major Stories

There is an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal comparing how wrong journalists have been in Iraq for two years with their horrible reporting on Japan, Inc. in the 1980s and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for several decades. Link.
The cliché is that journalism is the first draft of history. Yet a historian searching for clues about the origins of many of the great stories of recent decades -- the collapse of the Soviet empire; the rise of Osama bin Laden; the declining American crime rate; the economic eclipse of Japan and Germany -- would find most contemporary journalism useless. Perhaps a story here or there might, in retrospect, seem illuminating. But chances are it would have been nearly invisible at the time of publication: eight column inches, page A12.

The problem is not that journalists can't get their facts straight: They can and usually do. Nor is it that the facts are obscure: Often, the most essential facts are also the most obvious ones. The problem is that journalists have a difficult time distinguishing significant facts -- facts with consequences -- from insignificant ones. That, in turn, comes from not thinking very hard about just which stories are most worth telling.

In all three cases, the reports were usually technically correct, but they were irrelevant to our understanding of the situation. They gave true facts, but they were not the facts that mattered. The reporters brought a preconceived idea to their coverage, and reported the facts that backed up that idea. The many facts that did not fit, were ignored. Thus, it was not intentional bias that led to such biased coverage, but does that matter? If we are reading propaganda, does it really matter that the writers are just as fooled by it as they want us to be? At least the MSM now has the blogosphere to fact check for them, and to add the facts that they ignored as inconvenient.

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