Reporting the news is really hard. We've seen those poor guys standing in the hurricanes, trying to hold on to their microphone while debris flies by. And it's a good thing we have them; blogs and Twitter are nice, but to find out what's really going on in the world, at some point you need good old-fashioned journalism.
So can you blame a news outlet for using shortcuts and falling into the same old mistakes and cliches over and over again, just to fill space?
Yes, yes we can.
5Let's Ask the Idiots About Science
When it comes to matters of opinion or personal beliefs, it is absolutely the duty of the news media to report both sides (and any extra sides there may be, on those rare odd occasions when there are somehow more than two). It doesn't matter which one they agree with, they need to acknowledge the fact that some people think gay marriage is a right and others think the gays are forming a unicorn army that will kill us all.
Image courtesy of Faithmouse.com
When it comes to matters of fact, however, they absolutely do not have that duty. Particularly when it comes to technical or scientific matters where it takes somebody with training to speak knowledgably on the subject.
If we're talking about if, say, vaccines cause autism, we need to hear from scientists. That's a scientific issue. We do not need to hear from Jenny McCarthy or Jim fucking Carrey, in the name of giving "both sides." Jim and Jenny don't get a side. They have no background in the subject, and it's one that requires fucking background.
Once this happens, your opinion on medicine doesn't matter.
Sure, they can talk about poisonous vaccines to Oprah or whoever is sitting next to them at the Lakers game all they want. They have freedom of speech. That freedom does not guarantee them a seat on a panel of experts.
Yet, this kind of stupidity happens constantly. You get articles like this one from the Toronto Star, explaining how an investigation revealed how World Trade Center building 7 collapsed:
Scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology say their three-year investigation of the collapse determined the demise of WTC 7 was the first time in the world a fire caused the total failure of a modern skyscraper.
The organization they mentioned, the NIST, studies how buildings collapse so that they can make sure future buildings don't collapse. But instead of going into further detail on their extensive investigation, we get this:
Mike Berger of the group 9/11 Truth said he wasn't buying the government's explanation. "Their explanation simply isn't sufficient. We're being lied to," he said. Ah, yes, the conspiracy nut. Again, we would never deny a crazy person the right to be crazy.
They just shouldn't get a voice equal to that of hundreds of highly-trained experts. It can't be done that way. After all, there is a contingent of conspiracy kooks drifting around every subject. You don't stop every story about AIDS in Africa to hear from the John Bircher who thinks AIDS is a secret government population control project spread by fluoridated water.
But we can't just disregard their opinions, can we? Yes. Yes we can. If you're going to weigh in on a scientific matter, you need to bring data, gathered by people who know what the fuck they're talking about. If the subject is medicinal marijuana, we're not going to quote a stoner who has suddenly realized his hands can talk.