Truth Vigilantes and other short notes

The most clueless post of the week came from the NYT public editor Arthur Brisbane: Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante? Brisbane was

looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

So if a “newsmaker” says the sky is green, should the Times let that stand? or explain to its readers that the sky is actually blue?

That post drew 327 comments and countless responses from bloggers and other pundits, almost unanimously (except for National Review) saying: If you have to ask that question, the Times is in worse trouble than we thought.

Brisbane wrote a follow-up claiming that we had all misunderstood the question, which prompted another avalanche of responses saying that we understood it perfectly.

Greg Sargent sums up current practice, which is to print a fact-check column once (maybe), but not reference it when a false claim gets repeated again and again. Result: “any Times customer reading [the false claims] comes away misled.”

Glenn Greenwald translates newsmaker to mean “those who wield power within America’s political and financial systems” and points out that critics of the newsmaking elite get a different treatment: “their statements are subjected to extreme levels of skepticism in those rare instances when they’re heard at all.”

Jay Rosen gives a long-term perspective:

Something happened in our press over the last 40 years … the drift of professional practice over time was to bracket or suspend sharp questions of truth and falsehood in order to avoid charges of bias, or excessive editorializing. Journalists felt better, safer, on firmer professional ground–more like pros–when they stopped short of reporting substantially untrue statements as false.



Salon’s Marcus Cederstrom asks the question I’ve been wondering about for weeks: What if Tim Tebow were Muslim?


In all the uproar about American Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, one point hasn’t gotten much attention: All the way back to George Washington, America has tried to maintain a code of honor for its troops. (We didn’t always succeed, but we always tried.) Why?

Here’s why: The American ideal is the citizen soldier who eventually rejoins civilized society. America’s fighting men and women are not supposed to be packs of jackals that we unleash on our enemies and then forget about. They are us, and when they’re done with the disagreeable job of war, we intend to welcome them home.

So when Dana Loesch says, “Come on, people, this is a war“, she may think she’s supporting our troops, but she isn’t. By implying that barbaric behavior is normal in our military, she’s undermining our soldiers’ eventual re-integration into civilian life.

If this is how Loesch pictures Marines, how will she feel when an ex-Marine moves in next door or wants to marry her little sister? Or has the distance between Marines and media stars grown so great that such possibilities are unthinkable now?


While I enjoy Jon Stewart’s pokes at our political system from the outside, nothing tops the way Stephen Colbert demonstrates its abusrdity from within.

When it became clear that unaccountable Super-PACs were going to dominate the 2012 election cycle, Colbert started one: Americans United for a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow. It’s a stunt, but it’s not just a stunt. He really raised money and put ads on TV in Iowa.

This week, Colbert demonstrated the absurdity of Super-PACs that are devoted to one candidate (but allegedly don’t co-ordinate with that candidate’s campaign) by transferring his Super-PAC to Jon Stewart and then announcing his own candidacy for president. Colbert and Stewart worked out their “non-cooperation” agreement on national TV.

And now, the Super-PAC has the absurd anti-Romney attack ad Mitt the Ripper on the air in South Carolina: If Romney really believes corporations are people, then he was a serial killer during his time at Bain Capital.


It was amazing to watch how quickly and effectively the Republican establishment moved to shut down criticism of Romney’s “vulture capitalism“. TPM’s 100-seconds series captured it:

The point here seems to be that capitalism transcends good and evil. To make any moral comment on Romney’s business practices is beyond the pale, and puts you on the road to Soviet Communism. Such a nihilistic argument is pretty weird for a party that claims to be the natural home of American Christians.


Dahlia Lithwick: “If a Republican successor of Obama gets to replace both Kennedy and Ginsburg, it’s fair to predict that the Roberts Court may include five or even six of the most conservative jurists since the FDR era.” We wouldn’t just see a loss of abortion rights, but “a jurisprudence that skews pro-business, pro-life, anti-environment, and toward entangling the church with the state.”


If you haven’t checked out Vi Hart’s YouTube channel, you’re missing the Internet’s best example of charming geekiness.


It’s always important on MLK Day, to remember just how radical King was. He didn’t promote a vague be-nice message, but took outside-the-current-mainstream stands on major issues.

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  • By Profit and Property, or People? « The Weekly Sift on January 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    [...] Truth Vigilantes and other short notes. The Times gets an earful from its readers.  Defending corpse desecration doesn’t support our troops. What if Tebow were Muslim? Colbert’s Super-PAC demonstrates the absurdity of our campaign-finance system. The Republican establishment shuts down criticism of Romney. The charming geekiness of Vi Hart. And more. [...]

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