Note: This is a response to an article based on the report "Two Years Later: The Media Response to Death Panels and Why It’s Still Important."
Sarah Palin's "death panel" comment from her FaceBook page led to an ensuing controversy in which some people said Palin was correct and some said Palin was incorrect.
"Two Years Later: The Media Response to Death Panels and Why It’s Still Important," by Matthew L. Schafer and Regina G. Lawrence delves into the competing models for reporting truth claims in the media. Schafer authored the condensed mass media version of the same name.
Schafer concludes that the media bore considerable responsibility for the supposedly false belief in Palin's "death panels" simply by repeating the phrase, along with the arguments for and against:
Thus, the dilemma for reporters playing by the rules of procedural objectivity is that repeating a claim reinforces a sense of its validity — or at least, enshrines its place as an important topic of public debate. Moreover, there is no clear evidence that journalism can correct misinformation once it has been widely publicized. Indeed, it didn’t seem to correct the death panels misinformation in our study.What to do, then? Suppress "death panel" mentions in the news? Apparently so:
Journalists should verify information. Moreover, they should do so without including quotations from those taking a stance that is demonstrably false. This creates a factual jigsaw puzzle that the reader must untangle. Indeed, on the one hand, the journalist is calling the claim false, and on the other, he is giving inches quoting someone who believes it’s true.Schafer's recommendation might prove palatable if fact checking organizations dependably reached objective conclusions. They don't, and Schafer's choice of Palin's "death panel" phrase helps illustrate the point.
In his summary, Schafer claims that FactCheck.org (Annenberg Fact Check) debunked Palin's claim about death panels:
FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenburg (sic) Public Policy Center, would also debunk the claim, and later Politifact users would later vote the death panel claim to the top spot of Politifact’s Lie of the Year ballot.The supposed debunking does not at all debunk Palin's death panel statement. Later in his story, Schafer and Annenberg Fact Check acknowledge that Palin made no reference to any particular feature of the health care reform legislation. The fact check in question rabbit-trails into Palin's critique of Obama's claims about end-care physician counseling. Palin made clear in that reply that her "death panel" comment was aimed at government rationing of health care services. Fact checks by PolitiFact and Annenberg Fact Check ignored that original context of Palin's remarks.
Thus we find a fundamental flaw in Schafer's thesis. We can't assume the accuracy of the media, therefore it makes little sense to simply believe what the media tell us. That goes for supposed fact checks the same as anything else. Yet how is one to question a media account that simply ignores a controversy? Schafer effectively advocates an informational power grab by the establishment media. Proclaim the "truth," and marginalize those who question the received account by ignoring their protestations as irrelevant.