Thinking About Thinking

It’s Hard To Get The News From The News

Posted in Philosophy, Pop Culture by larrycheng on August 12, 2009

This post may be a statement of the obvious, but it’s an observation I had this morning.  As is typical, I skimmed the Kindle versions of The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal on my subway ride to work.  I thought it was very interesting how the three papers described the audience at President Obama’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire last night. 

First up, The Boston Globe:

Obama’s audience at Portsmouth High School gymnasium was tame.  The bleachers teemed with Obama supporters…  The president wound up preaching to the choir, which applauded wildly at his calls for action on healthcare – at one point breaking into a chant of “Yes we can!”

Next up, The New York Times:

Unlike many of Mr. Obama’s town-hall-style meetings, usually filled to the rafters with supporters, Tuesday’s meeting included skeptics from whom he sought out questions.  At one point he asked that only people who disagreed with his approach raise their hands to be called on.  There were plenty who responded.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal:

Inside Portsmouth High School, Mr. Obama faced a friendly crowd, so much so that he sought out some tough questioners.

And just to round it out, I checked out Fox News once I got to work:

Obama faced no disruptions at his meeting, instead taking questions from supporters who soft-balled him opportunities to knock down criticism. 

….and The Huffington Post:

The encounter was so friendly, in fact, that by the end Obama was even asking for skeptical questioners to come forward – to no avail.

After reading all five characterizations, I am inclined to think that The Huffington Post had the most accurate portrayal with the Wall Street Journal a distant second.  The other sources seemed to emphasize parts of the interaction as perhaps unfairly representative of the whole. 

This reminds me of a thought about what it means to be accurate in what you say.  To portray a situation accurately, it’s not just about making factual statements – which I think all of these sources did to an extent.  Accuracy involves more than isolated facts, but complete representation with – importantly – fair and proper emphasis.  This is as true for representing the news in journalism as it is in representing the Bible from the pulpit or representing a company in a Board meeting. 


13 Responses

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  1. Steve said, on August 12, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Hey, Bud,
    Saw your entry on facebook. Agree entirely. Part of what I love about preaching (when I do it — much less these days) and teaching (which of course I still do a lot of) is my commitment to representing whole stories, even when parts of them are inconvenient to whatever bias I have. Of course, philosophers these days think that anything like real accuracy, real complete representation, is impossible, as our bias always limits and guides us. I’m inclined to agree – it’s part of what makes us different from God, but to still do my best.

  2. busyevent said, on August 12, 2009 at 10:28 am

    You say tomato, I say tomaatoh.

    Or, said another way, “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”.

  3. Peter said, on August 12, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Larry, great post – I thought it might be worth vaguely introducing my startup, Broadersheet.

    You had to read five stories to get the full picture. Broadersheet wants to make this easier. We show you the lead story from your favourite source, and then you can tap a button and see all the other sides of a story. No more hunting down additional coverage, instantly see the depth you want.

    Launching on iPhone! 🙂

  4. Dan said, on August 12, 2009 at 10:59 am

    The way I see it, 3 of the clips are not factual. “Preaching to the choir”, “friendly crowd”, and “soft-balled” are all opinionated statements. The other two claim opposite things happened, with The Huffington Post saying there were no questions from skeptics and the New York Times saying there were many. The language in the NYT article suggests that this crowd was not filled with supporters, which disagrees with the other 4 clips.

    I wouldn’t say any of these clips are reliable indicators of what went happened. Am I reading this differently than everyone else?

    • larrycheng said, on August 12, 2009 at 11:02 am

      Dan, actually I agree with you after I read it again more closely. Two statement do directly contradict each other. No questions from skeptics vs. many questions from skeptics. So, I guess I was generous by saying that they were true statements.

      I guess you’re also making the claim that a statement of opinion is not a statement of fact? I need to think about that one more as I hear what you’re saying.


  5. Abe said, on August 12, 2009 at 11:44 am

    I think a news report will almost always give you a less than complete picture, for two reasons. First, the report is based on one reporter’s perspective, reflecting all their expectations and biases, and omitting details they may have happened to miss. Second, it’s a highly condensed summary. Any time you summarize something you’re going to lose some of the original meaning. Reading a movie review is not the same as watching the movie.

    If you want to form your own opinion, I think it’s always better to get as close to the source material as possible. In this case, you can read a transcript of the entire event:

  6. Deborah S. Lee said, on August 12, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    A great reporter of course will be calibrating their opinion from a neutral standpoint. That is, a non-personality driven (non-personality meaning, less editorial comments and more straight facts). However, with so many media companies being motivated by popularity/ratings/revenue (whether they may realize it and/or admit to it), executing news in its purest form of facts is rather a diamond in a rough scenario. People of course will gravitate towards whatever connects with their judgemental thoughts rather than weeding through for facts — as responsible citizens.
    On a different but similar note: it is unfortunate (in my humble opinion) that Media is monolpolized by the Left wing party — a bit like the higher education system where inquiring minds are easily being susceptible.

  7. […] this is the ‘professional’ news version…then how close to reality are the blogs and […]

  8. Frank said, on August 12, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    What we have now days is “reporters” reporting on what is “news”. I am 68, of a generation where we had Rather’s, Morrow’s and Cronkite’s that were JOURNALISTS, masters of their trade, working for news depts, not “profit centers for the entertainment Division”. The same for print media, there were reporters and there were journalists, as was pointed out during the NAM, there we “Editors” that never forgot their are only industtry important enough that founders protected them in the very first Amendment! Not to far back we were a much better educated and aware nation, our WW2 GI BIll Vets, gave us the best ever educated society, whom had the education, awareness and experience and horrors of war, to correct civil rights, end a unjust war and make us NR one in nearly all measures of society.
    They fullly expected their news media to report news accurately and when McCarthy went over edge, enough was enough and the press said so, based on facts. We have lost such via specail interests, corp owns most media. USA is less world class competitive on tech side, a meaner and more fearful culture is growing, due to increasingly dumbed down USA as happens to any nation were “The deal” is better then “the degree”.

    Whiile out “Blogs” are supposedly “great to inform” they do NOT have the responsibility of the Journalists, have a complete story and support it with facts. So it seems more and more evident that the 2000’s will be China’s century as 1900;s were ours. Blogs and such are cool, yet they lack the reality of those that were on the streets in Chicago when cops went wild, or in MS when the KKK and local courts sneered at nation, nor at Selma when the dogs and hoses were used. They did not attend “the WMD issue very well, but then neither did the reporters of the “Tonkin Gulf atatcks”.. as to facts.
    We are as a nation losing our edge, we flock to TV shows the humiliate the losers, laugh at unkindly put downs, cheer at the increased numbers of “Judge Judy” and wanna be shows while the reality justice at local court levels is often zero, corrutpion is the standard across USA.. and somehow the pols have sold us the facts, “Politico’s and such are all crooked or they;d not be there”.. and the end result is a “representative government systems” at any level, DOA, “Dead on Arrival” and we all remain like sheep., silent as “That is what we expect of them”.. That in the final analysis is a classic example of “expectations”….being and shaping the end result, the end item!
    Once there was a USA press, journalists, and editors and managers that told us “Corruption si NOT what we expect of the elected and their cronies”.. and we did not “expect such”. now we have reporters working for corp profits centers.. The Journalists are gone, now days it “Costs must be controlled”. No one now days, gets out among us, listened, checks facts, disregards lies, looks us and others in the eye and does the work of Journalists.. perhaps we no longer want those that put a mirror in front of us and said, “this is really you”.. or as one said “that is the way it was today”..
    Safer, and cheaper to “get it off the wire” then be there.. and it costs less, financially but costs more morally.. Now days most so dumbed down they only read what we agree with ..and call ourselves “informed”Reality vse News is simply not cost efficient any more.. and it often upsets the public when the Journalists hold up the damn mirror to us… while “reporters and bloggers are not required to do such a thing.

  9. Desmond Pieri said, on August 12, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Great post. To the point. And you achieved in your post what you sought in todays’ news: “Complete representation with fair and proper emphasis.” Thanks. Des

  10. James said, on August 13, 2009 at 2:04 am

    “To portray a situation accurately, it’s not just about making factual statements – which I think all of these sources did to an extent. Accuracy involves more than isolated facts, but complete representation with – importantly – fair and proper emphasis. ”

    It’s always implied that the details given are representative of the whole situation.

  11. […] Shared It’s Hard To Get The News From The News […]

  12. […] journalism/news/print, the college/educational system, healthcare — industries supporting a not-anymore-performant-enough human specie –  is under heavy […]

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