Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Falsehood, distortion and propaganda

But I should say for the record that although his Flat Earth News website announces that Davies "takes the lid off newspapers and broadcasters, exposing the mechanics of falsehood, distortion and propaganda," my experience of serious print journalists and broadcasters is that they do not engage in falsehood, distortion and propaganda.

Nick Cohen (who we're watching due to popular demand: thanks to BenSix et al in comments to previous post). Two minor points: the word 'serious' here means "well, journalists who do so engage aren't serious by definition" - so this is fact-proof. In my experience, many writers for newspapers and magazines engage in all three regularly.* And I think Nick Davies knows as much about journalists (serious, comic, or otherwise) as Nick does.

But wow, what a grudging apology.

*OK, the ones who stay employed are usually careful about falsehood, but distortion is very common. See Ben Goldacre's Bad Science site for examples of piss-poor journalism. Having not read it, I said I’d regard it with caution, because it might be true, but being on the front page of the Express is not necessarily a reliable predictor of something being true,... Does anyone think that's a libel on the good name of the Daily Express? A journalist whose story is on the front page of a national newspaper could be said to be successful in her chosen career. The National daily newspaper circulation August 2009 shows that the Express outsells the Guardian by more than 2-1. Doesn't it employ anyone 'serious'?


Blogger Matthew said...

I see Nick Davies has left a rather stinging commment.

Never mind, here's some good news as last for our Nick C


9/29/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re Schwerpunkt - for nearly two hours they've been hosting a link to 'IsraelShamir' s website, courtesy of a comment on
which they let through moderation. I just let them know . . . innit great how the big partisans of Israel are kind of clueless at fighting actually existing antisemitism that doesn't involve bashing the left for it?

Chris Williams

PS I swore I'd never do this again, but the giftrap is 'etsmon'. When I go mad, I will read messages in capchas.

9/30/2009 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

down it's come. Obviously they read their email.


9/30/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

So the Observer could not have been uncritically pushing the government line on Iraq because they printed unrelated stories on other subjects which were damaging to the government?

Hmm, not sure about Nick's logic there.

9/30/2009 11:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

I'm not quite sure whether the footnote to this post is criticising the Express, criticising Goldacre for criticising the Express, criticising Cohen, none of those or any combination of all three.

9/30/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It was intended as an illustration that a lot of what professional (=serious?) journalists publish isn't true, and the pieces that aren't constitute 'falsehood, distortion or propaganda'. Sorry if that wasn't clear. So criticising the Express (for frequently printing misleading stories - especially on health) and Cohen for affecting to be naive as to believe that 'serious journalists' are always truthful. But not criticising Goldacre, who is an exception among serious journalists, if indeed, he can be counted as one.

9/30/2009 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

I notice Nick tries some oblique sophistry, too - hinting at the argument:

Yes, OK ND didn't lie
And in fact ND is a serious journalist
Which goes to show I was right that serious journalists don't lie.

Of course he can only hint at it, as stating it any more explicitly would require a contempt for the reader that even Nick can't quite muster yet.

I also liked his description of one of the two kinds of journalistic 'mistake': "People see the same information through different ideological spectacles, and reach wildly different conclusions."

Whoops! Silly me. I must have let these ideological spectacles of mine get in the way of correctly reporting the facts!

The other kind of mistake, btw, is, er, actually making a mistake. The strong implication is that it will always be blameless, rather than negligent - but of course a wearing 'laziness spectacles' isn't something a serious journalist would do, so that's ruled out by the factproofing that CC points out.

But might any journos wear 'keeping your job goggles'? Or perhaps a 'bigging up your mates' monocle?

Do any other readers have amusing ideas for journalistic eyewear which could lead to mistaken 'conclusions' about the facts?

9/30/2009 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well beer goggles, obviously, in Nick's case

9/30/2009 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"my experience of serious print journalists and broadcasters is that they do not engage in falsehood, distortion and propaganda."

Whenever I read a phrase like 'serious print journalists' I think of the demolition job Glenn Greenwald at Salon did of the real meaning of this phrase (e.g. 'journalists who toe the media line, including every dumb talking point the Republican noise machine spits out'). Martin Kettle is another example of someone forever waving his Seriousness about in public and expecting people to admire it.


9/30/2009 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was also thinking of Glenn Greenwald's analysis when I read Cohen's "apology". Greenwald's analysis is that "serious journalists" in practice mean those who repeat the inside-the-Beltway received wisdom, while often the received wisdom is wrong. Davies does what we expect of journalists, which is point out where the received wisdom is wrong. He gets little thanks for it, of course.


10/01/2009 07:12:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I wonder if Cohen's experience of serious journalism bears any relation to how he treated his source in that recent 'Mathmos hate the libel laws' piece? You know, the one where he distorted everything he was told in order to provide propaganda for a cause he believes in?

I also liek the way he's banging the drum for seriousness and truthfulness in an 'apology' which actively lies about what he's apologising for.

This takes us back to my central problem with the way Nick writes on libel - he fronts as someone serious and idealistic but actively lies about the Singh case - the Eady interpretation of Singh's words is not 'unlikely' at all, it's linguistically very sound and is in no way a 'misinterpretation'. Cohen's banging on about how evil libel is misses another central problem - that Singh was caught out because he was writing lazily, as Nick does so, so often - as he certainly did about Nick Davies, hence no blog posts for the next month.

and how weird that he allies himself with Ben Goldacre, whose columns are really to do with exposing Bad Journalism, not Bad Science.

10/01/2009 07:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goldacre is the man that Cohen wants to be. Actually, that's not true: Goldacre is the man that Cohen thinks he already is.

Chris Williams

10/01/2009 07:52:00 AM  

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