Saturday, July 28, 2012

Here's an email I received from Sam Smith, one of my favorite journalist-watchers. It needs to be read and understood by any one who picks up a laptop or a quill pen to voice an opinion or offer constructive public advice to friends and colleagues. If more folks listened to Sam, we'd have more reporters and fewer stenographers.

Personal to editors

You did build that lie
Reporting a lie as fact is not being objective, it's just embedding you and your media in the lie. A lie is not a fact; a lie is a lie. And part of a journalist's job is to distinguish between lies and facts. Or used to be. Because today the media regularly reports lies as though they were just another fact.

Here's an example. I just googled the Obama phrase from the speech the Republicans are presenting so falsely: "You didn't build that." There were 208,000 hits in the past week. Then I googled a phrase that helps put Obama's comment in context - "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help" - and there were only 9,900 hits.

Why the difference? Because the media overwhelmingly reported the GOP lie and not the actual context.
Any media that did so should put Obama's actual statement on the page or in the same slot as it reported the lie and, yes, should have said "build those" instead of "build that." To save you some time, here is what Obama really said:

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together."