The bigger issue is that journalists are completely innumerate. I can count on one hand the number of journalists who have any understanding of mathematics.
Not to totally excuse David Brooks here, but his editors share the blame here. A good editor is a reader advocate, and should be adding up and questioning these figures during the editing process.
This is a particular problem with opinion pieces; we’ve all read columns that are chock full of outrageous, untrue bullshit. Editors who let this stuff through typically do it with the excuse that “this is an opinion piece.” True, but facts aren’t a matter of opinion, and a publication has abdicated its role if it allows its opinion writers to publish things that are simply wrong.
[Phone sex] is not so unlike being a reporter. A central challenge of success at both is keeping random strangers—horny guys, hostile hedge-fund managers—on the phone, talking to you, confessing to you, growing fond of you, resolving to talk to you again. And at all times, phone-sex operators, like reporters, are expected to remain detached, wise to “The Game,” objective—but in a way, that’s crap. It’s not easy to become beloved by strangers if not a single part of you truly yearns for that love.
Let me tell you a thing or two about editors. Most that I’ve known have mistakenly thought they, and not the writers, deserved the credit for all the good pieces that run in their publication and none of the blame for the bad ones. (I think this held true for me, too, when I was an editor!) Try complimenting an editor sometime about a good piece in his publication, and you’re certain to get this eye-rolling response: “You shoulda seen it when it came in!” For this reason alone, editors should be sentenced to perpetual anonymity…
…Not to go all Ed Anger on you, but editor credits make my bowels seize the same way the “letters from the editor” in some magazines do. Graydon Carter! Shut up and let me read my Vanity Fair in peace! I don’t want to know more about the writer of the story, how the story came together, and how wonderful it is. Just let me intuit all of that from reading the story itself.
From: Sammon, Bill
To: 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 036 -FOX.WHU; 054 -FNSunday; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers; 069 -Politics; 005 -Washington
Cc: Clemente, Michael; Stack, John; Wallace, Jay; Smith, Sean
Sent: Tue Dec 08 12:49:51 2009
Subject: Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…
…we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.
People from the digital world are always saying we don’t need journalists at all because information is everywhere and there in no barrier to entry. But these documents provide a good answer to that question. Even though journalists didn’t dig them out, there is a great deal of value in their efforts to explain and examine them. Who else would have had the energy or resources to do what these news organization have done?