Adventures in Bad Journalism #1

In my opening post I referred to my general disdain for journalists. Not because journalism isn’t important, and not that some journalists don’t do good work, but that most either don’t or maybe can’t. Unfortunately, one cannot simply avoid this by subscription to prestigious outlets. The NYT, FP, Economist, etc. are not immune to this problem. There are at least two serious problems for the reader with bad journalism:

  1. It wastes your time
  2.  It gives you wrong impressions while often providing some actual truth, primarily by burying it.

Years and years of practicing reading has allowed me to avoid as much of problem #1 as possible. But it cannot be entirely ignored or avoided. #2 simply cannot be avoided or ignored. I recently read an egregious and simple example in Foreign Policy. More than 3,000 words on a dead-horse subject (Russian/foreign influence on elections through social media), which could be been limited to the following admission buried in the middle of the article:

FP: American Democracy is an easy target

It is unsurprising that there is little evidence that Russian activities have, for example, led to significant changes in what people think. While social media surely influences what people do, think, and say, it is hard to use it effectively on the cheap. Russian media accounts were only one relatively small grouping among a vast crowd of would-be influencers, each trying to shout down the others. Most of Russia’s efforts likely simply disappeared in the noise.

But a couple of paragraphs earlier:

In some countries, these attacks have had minimal success — creating a political nuisance, but nothing more. In others, such as the United States, they have had greater consequences. This is not because Russian efforts in the U.S. election were crafted with precision, but because American democracy is in such trouble that even relatively inept efforts can succeed.

Out of both sides of their mouth they speak. No wonder people don’t know what is real or fake anymore (as opined by the article), and sifting through all that rehashed garbage for useful information requires far too much energy for it to be worth it for most people. Verdict – bad journalism.

 

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