What’s wrong with journalism today? Look no further than this article in today’s New York Times about voter ID laws. Specifically, this paragraph:
Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud. Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud — the kind addressed by photo identification requirements — and contend the restrictions are a veiled effort to suppress turnout by legitimate voters who tend to vote disproportionally for Democrats.
Notice what is missing there, and in the rest of the article? Any context for that “he said, she said” blurb. Nothing about which side has more facts on their side. It is, once again, a classic example of what the Times’ own Paul Krugman called out more than 10 years ago: “Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.”
“Supporters argue that the restrictions are necessary to prevent fraud”: What kind of fraud? How often does it occur? How many prosecutions have there been? “Critics say there is no evidence of significant amounts of in-person voter impersonation fraud”: So what are the numbers? By golly, that’s testable! You could look that up. A million cases of voter impersonation fraud in the country would be evidence that there is a pandemic of fraud. A few cases a year would be evidence that it’s not a real issue. So easy to give context!
But no. Journalism these days is not concerned with calling facts out, and this is certainly taken advantage of in public debate. And very unfortunately, this has a detrimental effect to our democracy. It’s the role of journalism to present the public with a common set of facts from which debate can go forward. They are failing miserably.
PoliticsMediaMarch 12, 2012