March 9, 2010

The Obligation to Challenge False Claims

giuliani-finger.jpgI respect the right to free expression, but I will not necessarily respect the content of what someone decides to say. A racist statement, for example, is one that I not only will not respect but against which I may speak out rather forcefully. A factually incorrect statement, presented as fact, also deserves no respect. Yes, you have the right to speak your mind, the right to be wrong, and even the right to make an ass of yourself. What you do not have is the right to do these things without being held accountable for the content of what you say.

When Rudy "9/11" Giuliani claimed on Good Morning America that there were no terrorist attacks under President Bush, he entered a realm of idiocy usually reserved for Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. But then George Stephanopoulos managed to accelerate past Giuliani by letting the lie go completely unchallenged. So much for contemporary news programs informing the public!

To his credit, Stephanopoulos has acknowledged his mistake and accepted responsibility. Still, the frequent refusal to hold invited guests accountable in the moment for grossly inaccurate statements has to be one of the most irritating things about the U.S. news media. It was nice that Stephanopoulos realizes he screwed up, but it did not undo the fact that Giuliani was permitted to peddle lies without challenge.

What is the point of having a free press when members of said press no longer engage in investigative reporting and merely regurgitate the claims made by those in power? Remember when guests used to be challenged on some of these shows?

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