Media malpractice

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 30, 2020

Our betters in the mainstream media often tout their layers and layers of fact-checkers, their professionalism and training. Unfortunately, far too often we see reporting that can be described as media malpractice.

Media malpractice at Newsweek: Does the story support the headline?

Last week, before President Donald Trump nominated circuit court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme court, Newsweek wrote a story on an appearance Barrett made on CBS News four years ago after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

There's a couple of problems with this story, the most egregious is that the headline makes an allegation that is supported neither by the story or by the video of Barrett's CBS interview.

Media Malpractice

The headline is the only place in the story where the word "inappropriate" occurs. You can read through the entire story and not see where she says Obama's decision to nominate Merrick Garland was inappropriate or used any negative term to characterize Obama's decision. You can watch the video below as well and find no such characterization by Barrett.

I've cued the video to where the relevant discussion begins. The conversation starts out talking about Justice Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked years earlier.

At the time, Barrett was working as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, and was not a judge. When asked about Garland's nomination, her analysis is historical and isn't tinged with the kind of partisan rancor that Newsweek attributes to her. In fact, her summary makes it clear that history doesn't benefit either side of the debate.

In sum, the president has the power to nominate and the senate to act or not, and I don't think either one of them can claim that there's a rule governing one way or the other.

It's a very different picture than you would get if you were just operating off Newsweek's headline.

The lede isn't much better

The second problem with the Newsweek piece is the lede, which also isn't supported by any evidence.

A resurfaced interview that CBS News conducted with Amy Coney Barrett in 2016 shows the former law clerk for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia warning against making changes that would "dramatically flip the balance of power" on the Supreme Court in an election year.

If you've watched the video, you know there was no "warning" against making changes. Barrett made the quoted statement as part of an explanation of why Anthony Kennedy was confirmed unanimously to the Supreme Court in an election year. Kennedy—a moderate Republican—was replacing Justice Lewis Powell—also a moderate Republican. Barrett wasn't issuing a warning, but offering a reason why he was approved in an election year.  (Among the other reasons were: 1) the seat didn't become open in the election year, but the year before; 2) Kennedy had been nominated for the slot in November of the prior year; and 3) the Democrats had already Borked Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg had withdrawn from consideration before being formally nominated.)

It seems that Newsweek wanted to run some sort of "gotcha" piece on Barrett, and wasn't about to let actual facts get in the way of their story.

USA Today's media malpractice

The Babylon Bee is a Christian satire site. Satire is not a thing you should be "fact-checking."

Certainly not when it's this ridiculous.

So what did someone at USA Today do? They assigned a reporter to do a serious article on whether the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has the power to raise someone from the dead.

Media Malpractice

With all of the small newspapers around the country that are losing staff because of the double-wallop of lost advertising revenue and the COVID-19 shutdowns, USA Today has the staffing to have someone fact-check satire.

I encourage you to follow the link and scroll to the bottom of the article where all of the sources used to come up with the fact check are listed. The reporter used 15 different sources to write this piece.

There's a lot of reporting on government, on the political campaigns, and on COVID that really need to be done…and USA Today is fact-checking satire. It blows the mind.


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September 2020



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