Dave Helling penned one of the most depressing things ever to appear in the Kansas City Star this morning, obituaries included. Sadly, Dave bends logic and truth in a vain attempt to excuse flaccid reporting, his own and that of all other reporters who have morphed into stenographers of bullshit, and feel helpless to fight back. Helling announces his intent to abandon factual truth because it is too confusing, and arrogantly claims he will try to report on the broader implications “with the truth folded in.”
Our newspaper thinks its job is to “fold in” the truth. Folks, that is frightening and sad.
The spark for this sad, sad “justification” was Art Brisbane’s embarrassing column “looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” In a nutshell, the world said “duh,” and reporters were shocked.
So how can Helling plausibly defend reporting falsehoods? Well, he can’t do it plausibly, so he starts off by trying to marginalize the critics. It was just those pesky bloggers who reacted with incredulity that reporters don’t realize it’s their job to pursue the truth. The “commentariat”.
That’s his first mistake. Bloggers and commenters were merely reflecting what everyone was saying and thinking. Helling confuses the medium with the message-givers. Brisbane did not merely attract the scorn of the blogosphere, he earned the scorn of every thinking person who heard his question. Bloggers just took the time to write their opinions. If he had floated the question to the people on the bar stools at 75th Street, he would have heard the same damned thing, only louder and more profane.
Shame on Helling, but it gets worse. Helling goes on to demonstrate that he is confused by facts. Employing a too-lengthy (space-filling?) example of different but true statements about gas prices, Helling waves his hands in the air and cries out in pain and confusion as to whether gas prices have sky-rocketed during Obama’s presidency, “The only correct answer: It depends.”
No, Dave, no. You are confusing conclusions with actual facts, and it is hard for me to believe that you, a grown man who has presumably had some training (though apparently little experience) can not tell the difference. People don’t want or expect reporters to correct politicians’ conclusions, but they cling desperately to the hope that reporters will correct their facts.
Helling cannot tell the difference. He goes on to raise other conclusions that he is confused by – “Did Mitt Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, mishandle management of a Kansas City steel plant? Are there too many firefighters in Kansas City? Are local taxes too high?”
Dave, those are opinions, and we don’t want you to report what you think is “the truth” on those. It frightens us that you don’t understand that distinction. If a politician says the local taxes are too high, that’s okay, and you should report it. If s/he says that the local taxes are 48.36%, that’s a lie, and you should challenge it. If Troy Schulte says that there are too many firefighters in Kansas City, that’s an opinion, and you may report it as such. If he claims that there are 15,000 firefighters in Kansas City, then check the facts and let us know if he is telling the truth. Are you getting the hang of this?
Sadly, Helling doesn’t understand the difference between facts and opinions, and he announces his intention to avoid facts and focus even more on sloppy “truthiness”, like some new age shaman of received wisdom. Reporters should not report the truth – they should “fold in” the truth while “examin[ing] the broader implications of [politicians'] decisions.”
“Fold in” the truth to support examination of “broader implications”?! That is what Dave Helling thinks reporters should be doing?!
Dave, let me be as clear and direct as possible. I sincerely do not care what you or your fellow Star reporters think on policy issues. I do not care. You are not a thought leader in this community. You have demonstrated neither wisdom nor insight, and even if you had, I choose not to place my trust in your future wisdom or insight. I have not voted for you.
I want reporters to tell the truth. Consistently. Regularly. Daily. Not fold it in when it supports your analysis. I want reporters to represent the truth, and let readers reach their own conclusions and form their own analysis.
I’m sad and frightened that we need to tell you this, but you’ve made it clear that I do.