Journalism 101

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I’ve said before that the longer I’ve been out of newspapers and the news business, the more disdain and outright hostility I feel for too many of those who remain in it. It’s not petty jealousy. It’s the fact that when all I see is the crap they produce and don’t deal with them as people on an almost daily basis, I’ve less sympathy and understanding of what they’re doing and what they’re going through.

Which brings us to a brouhaha that exploded on Twitter last night involving the hacks at Politifact.com, better known here as Politifraud.

In a “fact check” on a statement made by National Review’s Jonah Goldberg—who originally got it from Kevin Williamson—Politifraud’s Deputy Editor Lou Jacobson failed Journalism 101. It’s such a huge fail, that if Jacobson had been in my reporting class (not that a J-school would ever hire me), he would’ve gotten an immediate “F,” a stern talking to and he’d be a case study in things not to do for as long as I taught.

I don’t want to go into the substance of the Politifraud analysis, other to say that you’re generally safe to assume that if the rating is “Half-True” or better on a statement made by a conservative, then in reality it really is completely true. Call it “Adjusting for the Politifraud curve.”

What I want to focus on is this:

(Neither Williamson nor Goldberg returned inquiries for this fact-check.)

Let’s get Goldberg out of the way first.

Goldberg further notified his Twitter followers that he was never contacted by Jacobson. Not by Tweet, E-mail, Phone, carrier pigeon or shortwave radio.

When it comes to Williamson, Jacobson sent this explanation when Williamson asked about what attempt to contact him.

A Tweet? Seriously?

Here’s Journalism 101 for the 21st Century. It’s only OK to state that someone you wanted to talk to did not comment based upon a lone tweet if that is the only possible way of getting in contact with them. Williamson works for a magazine. With an office. With a secretary. With a phone number. He has an e-mail address. If you really want a comment from someone, you use all of that.

I once was doing a story as a reporter at the Lompoc Record on a government contractor at Vandenberg AFB whose payroll checks were bouncing back in the era before Twitter (or email). When trying to get a comment from the company on the situation, I called the company HQ every half-hour from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. to attempt to get a comment. (None was forthcoming, but I’m sure I annoyed the secretary.)

Jacobson didn’t make an honest, competent effort to get a comment from either Jacobson or Goldberg. (For Goldberg, I suspect he didn’t attempt to contact him at all.) I think Jacobson is a liar. I know he’s a hack. I look forward to an explanation from Politifraud on what happened here. Do they honestly believe a lone tweet is sufficient to make the claim that the sources refused or failed to respond to an inquiry? (It isn’t.)

Update: Jonah Goldberg has responded here. Kevin Williamson has delivered an impressive smackdown here.

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