Maybe you’ve heard about the small furor over the Washington Post’s article, “Foes Use Obama’s Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him”. It really is an excellent example of the trap that reporters often fall into: pointing out an issue, reporting opposing statements about the topic, and leaving it at that. In fact I hope the criticism of this article doesn’t get lost in a similar trap, with the controversy getting simplified to “Obama Supporters Object to Washington Post Report on Muslim Rumors”. The rumors are simply false, have been proven to be so, and should be reported as such. Period.
The problem here is the unwillingness to state hard facts and call lies “lies”, and do so first and foremost. Others have commented extensively, but as usual I think the clearest criticism is through satire. This cartoon, amusingly also printed in the Washington Post, gets it right.
I think this is the crux of many of the problems people have with the media and the perceived bias (in either direction) of various news outlets. When reporting has devolved to he-said she-said (as Colbert put it, “Just put ’em through a spell check and go home.”), it is almost impossible not to exhibit bias. My guess is that, for a news business, facts aren’t profitable. Facts must be carefully checked and if they are wrong, the business is subject to libel lawsuits. Transcription is quick, safe, and (particularly if you pick a side) profitable.