The deck sentiment is correct. Unfortunately, writer Rem Rieder appears uncertain whether to support the ambiguous sentiment in the title or the more reasonable assertion from the deck.
Rieder strangles his message in ambiguity from the start:
So should journalists brand a lie a lie?If we understand "lie" as a clearly false statement, then Rieder is correct.
This should not be a tough call: Of course they should.
If, on the other hand, we're talking about the much more widely understood definition of "lie" as a statement intended to deceive, then the answer is no, at least in objective reporting. Objective reporting does not permit the journalist sufficient leeway to judge the motives of a speaker or writer.
So already we've got a problem. If an "objective" journalist calls a statement a "lie" in the false statement sense and the audience understands "lie" to refer to intentional deceit, then the journalist is, in effect, communicating a false message to the reader. A lie?
Why would the journalist use ambiguous language if not for the express purpose of misleading the reader? Assuming the journalist is intelligent enough to distinguish between the different meanings for the term "lie," of course.
Rieder then follows with a nearly perfect illustration of his own problem with ambiguity:
The issue is very much in the air now in the wake of Mitt Romney's completely duplicitous ad about President Barack Obama.Just to state the obvious, journalists very often truncate quotations. They lop material off the front. They omit material in the middle. They chop off material at the end.
The "Believe in America" ad shows Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose."
What Obama really said was, "Senator [John] McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.' "
This is a completely cynical distortion of the president's remark. It's an incredibly cynical piece of political mischief. It needs to be called out.
It's okay to shorten quotations under one condition: It doesn't substantially change the meaning of what the person wrote or said.
President Obama's handlers immediately reacted to the Romney ad, alleging it distorted what President Obama said. Romney's defenders pointed out that the ad provided enough context so that the viewer--even including left-leaning journalists--should be able to tell that Obama was speaking back in 2008 well before Mr. Obama would have thoughts of whether to talk about the economy when seeking reelection.
To amplify the point, Romney's ad carries the same message substituting the full quotation Rieder provides. The only exception comes from viewers such as Rieder who assume, contrary to the facts presented in the ad, that Obama referred to himself in the context of the 2012 election.
Plainly the ad was intended to portray the irony of Obama condemning the economy in 2008 while holding responsibility for a worse economy leading toward the 2012 election. And it's the journalist's responsibility to expose a lie in that?
No, it's the journalist's responsibility to explain the ad in terms of the facts and in terms of its message, correcting any obvious errors of fact in accordance with the statement in Rieder's deck. It is not the journalist's responsibility to make false statements about how the ad is obviously false and in need of rebuke.
This controversy over fact checking helps illustrate time and again how journalists have lost touch with the concept of objective reporting.