An apparently regular reader (equally apparently “unencumbered by the thought process”) took me to task on Facebook recently.
is just a rehash of other right wing blogs,”
Heh. That statement is oddly pleasing because it tells me two things:
• that visitor reads right wing blogs, something I rarely do; and
• other writers have obviously found the same data and quotes I did.
Still, it means it’s time for another look under the hood at how I do this job and what this job is. Then I get to comment. It’s what I do.
I’ve been a small town newspaper columnist and op-ed writer for more than 30 years. Back in 1997, an online journal asked me for 10-1/2 Hot Tips for Small-town Op-ed Writers. I’m pleased that that advice is still excellent, but it did leave out a couple of tips.
• A story without facts is guesswork.
• A story without a source is a campfire tale.
Yes, I break Rule #3 (“Avoid hot topics in the national or international news.”) more often than I should.
Rule #6. “Every fact requires two independent sources; the editor may not have time to authenticate your original research. Make sure your facts are right.”
Journalism is simply finding a fact, determining its importance, and then sharing that fact. Editorial writing is nearly the same. Find the fact, interpret its importance, and share both.
I don’t write in a vacuum; I do write about what happens to me and around me. That means I generally look to three initial sources for the information I use to underpin each piece:
1. Direct quotes from actual newsmakers. Remembering that I am a small town writer, this is both easier and harder for me. It’s very easy for me to call up a local race car driver or the former governor for an interview because either one may have been here for drinks last week. It’s a lot harder for me to call up President Obama for the same. Fortunately, what national newsmakers say is usually recorded and posted in its entirety online. Google is my friend.
2. Actual print newspapers (I refer to the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post for most national news because they are usually accurate; my other sources are typically local media, including the ones I write for).
3. Television news for the headlines. I generally watch ABC or NBC News in the evening and CBS’ Face the Nation on Sundays. I haven’t seen a Fox News report in over a year.
Given that initial fact, my next job is to find independent confirmation. Here’s how that happens.
Ms. Proctor particularly objected to a piece I wrote in 2009. It was one of many times I have caught Mr. Obama in a lie. [As an editorial aside, I suspect she objects because I don’t pull punches when I catch her hero lying. She, of course, believes everything he says.]
Our discussion was whether some people are better off or worse after the change to Obamacare. Ms. Proctor was both right and wrong in saying “ACA will regulate health insurers until Americans evolve to the point that we demand single payer.”
I corrected her with the fact that we had tried that in Vermont as I outlined here in 2009. Even today, only a small number of the Vermonters clustered in Montpelier demand single payer.
Rather than disputing the facts, Ms. Proctor picked one line of the piece
[In selling his plan, President Obama said, “We have the AARP on board” to endorse the bill. Too bad AARP refuted that statement.]
and opined that my sources were suspect.
I first found the AARP info I quoted in a report titled, “President Obama’s ‘Senior’ Moment?” by Kristina Wong which appeared on ABC News on August 11, 2009. That was the day before my own piece appeared.
“Kristina Wong blogs with a right wing slant,” she wrote. “Finding right wing blogs similar to yours was not difficult.”
of the United States lies, it goes viral.
What sources did Jake Tapper and Rachel Martin use to assure the accuracy of Ms. Wong’s report? The two most obvious ones were ABC’s own recorded video of Mr. Obama stating he had “the AARP onboard” in the health insurance reform “town hall” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Interestingly, that wasn’t the first or last time he said that as this video and as his own published remarks show.
AARP Chief Operating Officer Tom Nelson issued this statement, “While the President was correct that AARP will not endorse a health care reform bill that would reduce Medicare benefits, indications that we have endorsed any of the major health care reform bills currently under consideration in Congress are inaccurate.”
Rule #6. “Every fact requires two independent sources.” Done. Dusted.
Unfortunately, that page is no longer on the AARP site.
Further, then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs backed away from Mr. Obama’s lies in New Hampshire. Asked if the president misspoke, Mr. Gibbs answered simply, “Yes.”
“Misspoke”? Nice spin.
What have we learned?
1. My piece was accurate as written and its thrust is accurate today. For the record (after heavy political lobbying), AARP did announce its endorsement of the Unaffordable Care Act on November 5, 2009, three months after my piece appeared.
2. Ms. Proctor normally accepts ABC News as a trusted source. Except when they don’t confirm her bias.
“Obama might have offered an opportunity for real reform had it not been for the right wing obstructionists and their enablers,” she wrote, “including a media more interested in sensationalism and gotcha journalism than in truth and accuracy.”
Now I get it. The NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, as well as ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS News are all “more interested in sensationalism and gotcha journalism than in truth and accuracy.”
Critical thinking. Random House defines it as “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”
It’s too bad naysayers like Ms. Proctor are unable to bring any level of critical thinking to their own responses.