Helling’s Sad and Frightening Failure to Understand What Truth Is

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.

8 Responses to “Helling’s Sad and Frightening Failure to Understand What Truth Is”

  1. Well said, sir! Couldn’t agree more!

    The professional journalist and reporter have gone the way of the dodo bird. They are extinct. They have been replaced by arrogant stenographers who think we care what they think about what they have recorded and regurgitated verbatim.

    Journalists should keep their opinions and conclusions to themselves. Just gather the facts, investigate and validate the facts, report the facts, and leave it to the Citizens to reach their own conclusions and form their own opinions. Based on the facts.

  2. les says:

    But but but…if reporters tell us when politicians lie…uh, fold out the truth?…then they will be accused of being part of the liberal media, and will suffer shame and ignominy, and not be invited to the best parties, and lose any chance of a phat ride on the Wingnut Wurlitzer or a Koch brothers sinecure. Better to just agree with St. Ronnie Reagan, and agree that “facts are stupid things.” Here’s your modern day journalism: “Conservatives claim world is flat; some scientists disagree.” Job well done!

  3. Dan, Dan, Dan. While I’ve always been grateful that the Star occasionally publishes my rants and once gave me 15 minutes of fame, I’ve long since surrendered my hopes that it will deliver good writing, relevant articles, and factual accounts of world, national or regional events. Why should you cling to such delusions when the rest of us have had to surrender them? The Star has occasional flashes of familiarity, especially when reporting on the very, very local (such as cute little girls in tutus or dog bites). But if you lift your eyes above the fold or stray from the FYI section, you are bound to be disappointed. That they give this mediocre and mundane writer his own column just reflects their trend. Rather than elevate journalism above the 6th grade level that it has historically occupied, they’ve taken it all the way to post-senility. Deal with it! It is not likely to improve, and it is, after all, the only game in town.

  4. Hyperblogal says:

    It all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

  5. Nick says:

    At the time I was sure Sulzberger would let Brisbane go; when he publicly corrected Art the next day I was sure the axe was next. Not to be however…

    To me the most interesting thing about Helling’s item is the timing; Art pulled his faux pas nearly 3 weeks ago. Every, and I mean EVERY national journalist/paper/blog of note went on record within hours pillorying or defending Art.

    Not the Star. Not a peep out of them. Which, I suppose, is understandable; it’s not like, after all, Art was ever one of their own…

  6. gonemild says:

    I thought the timing was odd, too, though I guess it struck me as odd that Helling took 3 weeks to ponder the issue and still botched it so horribly. I mean, if he had dashed it off within 5 minutes after reading Brisbane’s piece, I’d cut him a little slack, but he spent 3 weeks! Honestly, it makes me wonder about his intellect. Or, and I know this sometimes happened to me when I was writing with self-imposed deadlines, perhaps he noted it as a topic worthy of exploration, but never got any intellectual traction with it, and then he came up on a deadline and forced out this awful mash-up of misunderstood concepts.

    It is surprising that nobody at the Star had anything to say until now – not even “Jimmy C“, who combines a solipsistic fascination with his own days with the Star with tremendous knack for being wrong about everything.

  7. Nick says:

    … solipsistic fascination with his own days with the Star with tremendous knack for being wrong about everything.

    heh heh

    I was just over there and he was, almost accidentally, defending the local red light camera program; his primary focus is on the Star, of course, and how he thinks it ought to be run. Which is nearly irrelevant.

    Not Jimmy C’s opinion, mind you; whatever the Star does…

  8. Nick says:

    …as to Helling’s piece?

    It bore the imprint of everything the Stat publishes; narrow in scope, middle-of-the-road, let’s-not-get-excited, mealy mouthed defense of whatever status quo the Star supports.

    But then I suppose the Star doesn’t employ anyone any more who might right an unvarnished article.

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