Journalists: experts in what?
I fear I'm getting boring here, carping on the MSM again ( getting boring? ask my critics. You've been boring for a long time now.)
But here it is again. Via Michael Totten, I read this recent fisking of a story that appeared in last Sunday's Washington Post and was itself a critique of Lebanon's upcoming elections.
The fisker is described by Michael Totten as "my friend in Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal." So I guess he knows a thing or two about Lebanese history and political life. And he says that Annia Ciezadlo, who wrote the Post story, has gotten a great number of her facts wrong. Maybe the fisking isn't quite up there with Mary McCarthy's famous description of Lillian Hellman, "Everything she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'"--but it's close.
When one reads this fisking and its point by point rebuttal of most of Ms. Ciezadlo's claims, it is truly astounding to see how wrong she gets it, even for one such as myself who has lost faith in the MSM in recent years.
So I'm wondering, what gives here? Ms. Ciezadlo is probably intelligent. She also appears (from a brief Google search I did that turned up a paucity of information on her) to be an American who reports quite a bit from Beirut. So it's not a case of her doing the equivalent of a quick term paper from afar, and coming up with this article. She ought to know better; she's had the time to study the situation and do the proper research. Is it bias? Blinders? Sloppiness? Bad sources?
I don't know. But I think it matters, very much. Newspapers are the way the vast majority of people get their information, and how their viewpoints are shaped. If the papers are getting it wrong, the consequences are vast. And this isn't about opinion; these are simple facts that Ms. Ciezadlo has misstated here.
It reminds me of something I read somewhere once about journalism (I Googled this every which way to find the actual source, but I came up empty). It went like this: The more expert you are on a subject, the more clear it is when you read a newspaper article about it that everything in that article is incorrect."
Although that's of course hyperbole, I've noticed the phenomenon myself. The people I've known personally who've been quoted in an article--misquoted, as often as not. If the article is about something I know a bit about--therapy, dance, social science research--I find glaring errors as a rule. What is this about? Is it willful? Is it stupidity? Is it speed? Sloppiness?
My answer at the moment is that sometimes it's any of those things, all of those things, or some combination of those things. But I have a theory that sometimes the following factor is also operating, either in concert with these things, or alone: I get the impression that many journalists nowadays (as opposed to in the past) are first and foremost writers (I don't know about Ms. Ciezadlo, since, as I said, I was unable to get much biographical information on her). As such, they may not really be experts in anything, except writing and journalism itself. Perhaps they were English or literature majors who may have then gotten a graduate degree in journalism school. Writing, writing, writing.
Now, I'm not down on writers--some of my best friends are writers! I'm a writer, even! But I think that writers who come to writing with a solid grounding as experts in something--history or economics or the military or law--or who have training in the discipline known as "critical thinking," might be less likely to make so many errors (especially when writing on a subject within their field of expertise).
Journalists sometimes remind me of the line from the "My Fair Lady" song "Why Can't the English": "The French don't care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly." Perhaps some journalists don't care what they say, actually, as long as it's well-written. Bias is always a possiblity (and, in some cases a probability), also. But again, I'm not talking about opinions here, I'm talking about simple and verifiable facts. Why can't the journalists get them right?