I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Factesque Patrol - The Role of the NJ Liberal Blogger

Not to beat this to death, but I do want to look at this whole Bob Ingle/teacher pay issue and make a larger point:

"Pitchfork" Bob threw up a reference to a Manhattan Institute brief about teacher pay on his blog. It's bad enough that Bob persists in not putting links to his sources on his blog so we can check them out for ourselves; it appears he doesn't even spend the time to look at them carefully and see if they are the products of decent research.

Now, I'm not saying Bob or any other journalist should be picking apart every citation with the precision of a dissertation review panel; I am saying that a professional journalist should have enough basic tools at his disposal to look at a piece of "research" and figure out if it's worth injecting into the discourse - regardless of whether it supports his views or not.

I took a short look at the brief and found a glaring math error that should have disqualified it from being published. In addition, the BLS, which produced the data, specifically cautioned against using it to compare the hours teachers work to those in other professions.

There are also many pieces of evidence: like this and this, that fly in the face of this brief.

So why didn't Bob take the time to really check this source before he put his blog post up? To me, it's obvious: Bob found a source that comported with his views, and that was enough. It didn't have to show facts - it was "factesque" enough for his purposes, so it was good enough to publish.

Glen Greenwald writes about the hand-wringing the mainstream media is engaging in over the supposedly lax standards of bloggers compared to "real" journalists. You'll get no argument from me that there are some pretty bad bloggers out there; however, can we really say the mainstream media is doing that much better?

As Greenwald shows, Bob's casual attitude toward his source is, unfortunately, typical for way too much of the media today. Here in NJ, it's allowed Chris Christie to inject "facts" into the discourse (We're #1 in taxes! Teacher pay is rising faster than everyone else's!) that just aren't true. Why? Because the media doesn't rigorously check them out, find out if they are actually true, and then regularly call Christie on it if they aren't.

The worst example of this so far in the Christie Administration is the Tax Foundation claim that we are the #1 taxed state in the country - we aren't. Some in the media have called Christie on this, like Tom Moran, and I commend them for that. But it's not enough. A politician simply can not be allowed to throw false facts into the conversation and not pay a price in reduced credibility, and neither should a journalist. If Moran is going to call out Christie on playing fast and lose with the facts, he should be calling out Ingle as well.

But that's obviously not happening. What to do?

Ideally, progressive interest groups should start directly demanding accountability from journalists for what they publish. I understand, however, that going after the media would put unions and liberal groups in a bad position; they want to cultivate allies and keep animosity with the press in check, and it's not always in their interest to take on a journalist or pundit.

Someone else has to take on this job. Media Matters has provided the template; it's now a question of developing the infrastructure to make it happen.

Until then, the job has to fall to dirty hippies like yours truly. I don't believe for a second that anyone in a position of power within the media gives a damn what I have to say, but I do believe bloggers like myself can begin to show other liberals that this is a job that can and should be done.

At the very least, we can serve as stones in shoes of the "Pitchfork" Bobs of this state. We can let them know we are watching, and that we have the facts on our side. For now, that will have to do.

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