Esteemed NBC White House correspondent and political director Chuck Todd caused quite a furor this morning.
Speaking on Morning Joe, he said quite openly what many of us have just assumed to be the truth by virtue of careful observation: that it's not the media's job to correct misinformation and falsehoods. He made this comment in relation to the Obamacare debate, saying that the GOP has been better at "messaging"—i.e. getting the media to repeat its lies ad nauseam—while the Obama administration and Democrats have failed to make their case.
Confronted with significant pushback on Twitter, he had this to say:
Somebody decided to troll w/mislding headline: point I actually made was folks shouldn't expect media to do job WH has FAILED to do re: ACAOh no! He was "trolled", because someone—actually, several someones—called into question why he even has the job of "journalist" if he's saying that it isn't his job to fulfill a journalist's prime responsibility, which is to give his readers/viewers/listeners accurate information about the world around them.
— Chuck Todd (@chucktodd) September 18, 2013
Look, I know Mr. Todd has a tough job. Between jetting around the world following a President who openly disdains him and his colleagues to rushing on air and slandering a Navy vet by saying he was the Navy Yard shooter, that seven figure salary can't be much of a balm. I bet there are days when he wishes he had remained NBC's "numbers guy"; numbers have a purity to them that the messy business of reportage doesn't. And there's the constant mockery, which may make him hide behind Twitter's new policy of allowing "elite" users to block the common riffraff from calling them out when they do something gobsmackingly stupid. As stupid as, say, a prominent journalist saying that it's not his job to correct misinformation, inferring, obviously, that it's his job to just mindlessly parrot whatever GOP press releases fall into his lap.
But, he decided to take the promotion—a case of failing upward if ever there was one—and he is now a real "journalist", not a number wonk. So it's not too far fetched for we the unwashed to expect him to fulfill the bare minimum of his profession. Which is, yes, to report news accurately, and call falsehoods what they are, even if it means no more invitations to Georgetown cocktail parties.
I'm not expecting the media to become an official news agency for the White House—although it pretty much functioned as such during the previous administration, until the incompetence became too much even for our debased fourth estate. But to say that the Administration hasn't been out there promoting and trying to get out its message about the Affordable Care Act is, well, more misinformation. What is true is that the media runs to give microphones to opponents of Obamacare, while giving perfunctory coverage to supporters. Polling supports that a large segment of Americans still don't know much about the law. If my thesis that the Administration has been out there promoting the law, but people still don't know about it, is correct, doesn't it stand to reason that its message is being blocked at some choke point. Perhaps by the media?
I wouldn't want Mr. Todd to lift one finger more than he has to in exertion for his chosen profession. But he may want to remember this, from the Pew Center's "Principles of Journalism". It's the very first principle.
Perhaps if Mr. Todd had actually gone to journalism school, he'd know this. But many of our journalists have gone to school, and violate this cardinal rule every day in their work. The Founders may not be too happy to see how their most cherished amendment is being used in our latter days.
Journalism's first obligation is to the truth
Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it can--and must--pursue it in a practical sense. This "journalistic truth" is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built--context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum. As citizens encounter an ever greater flow of data, they have more need--not less--for identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information and putting it in context.