Tuesday, August 29, 2006

We are all investigative reporters now--or should be

David Frum has summarized some of the hoaxes perpetrated on and by the media in recent weeks. From Reutergate to counterfeit bills passed by Hezbollah, from Green Helmet guy doing photo ops at Qana to the Ambulance Hoax, the MSM has been at the very best disingenuous and at the very worst complicit in the spread of lies and fraud. If not for bloggers, none of this would have been exposed.

Also, please check out Richard Landes's latest efforts at Second Draft, entitled "The Birth of an Icon." As you watch more of the footage of the alleged death of the boy Mohammad al Durah ("caught in the crossfire"), it becomes ever more likely that the entire thing was a hoax--and a very influential one at that, especially in Europe, where al Durah's death became a rallying cry for sympathy with the bloody Second Intifada.

So, what's up with the media? Frum lists the possibilities: they are gullible, they are biased, they are in collusion, they are frightened of retaliation, they are some of the above, they are all of the above.

Here is my call to the MSM: put the "investigative" back into reporting. Traditionally, investigative reporting--in which the writer deeply questions the obvious, and brings an attitude of skepticism and critical thinking to the story, almost like a detective researching a case--has been limited to local scandals and corruptions. But it needs to be more broadly applied these days. What used to be a straight news story of war reportage--a photographer comes upon a bombed vehicle, is told by the locals what happened, and takes a photo--is no longer so straightforward. Perhaps it never was. And local stringers, who are often used as photographers and reporters in war torn areas--even those who've worked a long time with a news agency-- might be found to have their own political agendas that distort coverage.

It makes for a lot more work, to be sure. And if the reporter isn't ideologically inclined to doubt the sources, the healthy skepticism that's a prime requirement of all investigative reporting is going to be especially hard to bring to the story. But at this point it couldn't be more clear that it's necessary to do so. No, not just necessary; it's absolutely vital.

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