telling both sides vs. fact checking

On our local public radio station this afternoon, state capital reporter Laura Leslie had this to say about the National Organization for Marriage‘s rally in Raleigh today:

NOM president Brian Brown… says heterosexuals are losing their civil rights.

That was the final sentence in the story. The complete story is here.

UPDATE: There’s a much more detailed, nuanced, and interesting description on the reporter’s blog here. My concerns apply only to the radio story, certainly not the attendant blog entry!

I understand that there is pressure to frame all disagreements in terms of rights violations. But I seriously doubt if Mr. Brown can cite a single actual civil right that is threatened for heterosexuals as a class. Sadly, Leslie did not press him to name one of these rights or, more broadly, to explain or document his claim. Thus we are left with a classic of American journalism: tell both sides of the story, even if one side’s claim is indefensible:

Joe said the earth is round. Jane said it’s actually flat and cut out in the shape of a lovely floral arrangement. This is Mike Smith reporting from Raleigh.

Here’s what I wrote in an email to Leslie:

Dear Ms. Leslie-

On your report today about the National Organization for Marriage rally and the counter-protest in Raleigh, you ended with the statement that “[NOM president Brian] Brown says heterosexuals are losing their civil rights.” As a listener, I wonder why you didn’t ask him to explain this claim. Are there one or more specific civil rights he considers threatened? Serious journalism should require that the journalist evaluate the veracity of what sources say; I believe it is woefully inadequate for you to simply broadcast his claim without subjecting it to any scrutiny whatsoever.

Best wishes,
Andrew J. Perrin (WUNC listener and contributor)

Her response:

H, Andrew.  Unfortunately, a one-minute spot isn't sufficient to adequately
explore the nuances of both sides of this story. 

Specifically, Mr. Brown believes that religious groups (in MA and MD) are being
forced by the government to accept gays and lesbians against their moral
teachings.  He also believes that Walker's ruling in the Perry case is
tantamount to throwing away the ballots of millions of voters who supported prop
8. 

He has the right to offer his opinion, which he did over a loudspeaker at
today's rally.  I doubt many would agree with it. 

Thanks,
Laura

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

4 thoughts on “telling both sides vs. fact checking”

  1. Sometimes it’s in the title, as well as the last sentence: http://www.denverpost.com/election2010/ci_15673894

    Title: Bike agenda spins cities toward U.N. control, Maes warns

    Last Sentence: “Some would argue this document that mayors have signed is contradictory to our own Constitution,” Maes said.

    I realize it’s reporting on a campaign rally speech, but still.

    On a side note, why the vehement anti-bike sentiment in cities all around the U.S.? Are people not fed up with their rush hour commutes?

    Like

    1. Oh man, can we please not do bikes vs. cars here? It’s the one place on the internet that that argument hasn’t reached yet, it seems.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s