I recently watched the HBO documentary Reporter, profiling the New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nicholas Kristof, as he reported on the genocide taking place in the Congo.
Notably, the documentary spent considerable time focusing on Kristof’s journalistic standards, rather than only spotlighting the great tragedy taking place. In fact, much of the video documents Kristof teaching his trade to journalism students. That part of the film was very revealing.
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One highlight of the documentary was when Kristof traveled to a village that had just been ransacked by militants. Villagers told Kristof that an enormous number of people were murdered. Their stories were horrific.
However, despite their eyewitness testimony, Kristof was skeptical about what he was told. In fact, he continued to inquire about who saw the murders. Was there proof about the number of people killed? Was there any evidence? He didn’t believe it was enough to simply report that villager X saw Y happen; he wanted the truth. Reflecting on that clip, I wonder whether I would have held myself to such a high standard, or would I have simply reported what someone told me?
I bring up Kristof not because I agree with all of his personal politics; I don’t, nor do I bring him up because I believe he is a perfect journalist with no bias whatsoever. Instead, I choose to spotlight Kristof because most journalists respect his work and it sets a great benchmark for what the Tea Party should expect out of journalists. By using Kristof’s method as a professional standard, I cannot be accused of simply accusing all reporters of having a liberal bias.
Now, let’s compare Kristof’s standards to the recent Tea Party reporting of the N-Word allegedly being directed at congressmen.
Supposedly, the N-Word was yelled 15 times at Rep. Lewis D-Ga and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus by Tea Party members. How do reporters know this happened? Well, Rep. Lewis said it happened along with a few other members of the Caucus who were with him. However, there is no video evidence of this occurring despite numerous recordings of the event.
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Andrew Breitbart has offered $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund for any video evidence of the charges. Breitbart is now being accused of commentating on a video that did not record the correct time of the alleged event despite no other known videos demonstrating use of the N-Word. All Breitbart was asking for was additional evidence. None exists.
Moreover, police at the scene apparently didn’t see the need to intervene nor did they report hearing the N-Word yelled.
Lastly, as if this was not bad enough, numerous reporters have cited Rep. Lewis’ past civil rights-era achievements as evidence that this event occurred. The relevance of this fact does not seem clear. Worse yet, anonymous “white” lawmakers have been cited, with no evidence presented, simply an assertion.
Based on Kristof’s standard of employing rational skepticism of every source, this is not journalism. In the case of the Tea Partiers, accusations are accepted at face value, biases of the accusers are ignored, and the accused are slandered because they dare ask for evidence.
If this is the new journalistic standard, there is no reason why “journalists” who engage in such slander should be considered professionals. If Kristof is willing to be skeptical of people claiming hundreds of villagers were massacred in the Congo, I think it is reasonable for our free press to be skeptical that the N-word was yelled 15 times in public, with dozens of video cameras present, and yet without any evidence actually recorded.