Lori Montgomery and Anne Kornblut:
The senators also shared tales from their home states, where some lawmakers have been besieged by protesters angry about a potential government takeover of the nation's health-care system.
Just as surely as nobody can dispute that teabaggers have disrupted townhalls, nobody can dispute that the health care reform proposals before Congress do not contemplate a "government takeover of the nation's health-care system."
Mongomery and Kornblut certainly understand this fact, but for whatever reason, they decided to lend credence to the protesters' paranoia, describing something that is not going to happen as "potential."
Imagine if they had written:
The senators also shared tales from their home states, where some lawmakers have been besieged by protesters angry about a potential extraterrestrial takeover of the nation's space exploration program.
Now, in the context of Jon Stewart's show -- where everybody knows extraterrestrials are not about to take the reins at NASA -- that statement might be funny.
But Montgomery and Kornblut aren't comedians, their audience isn't Jon Stewart's, and they aren't talking about interstellar space travel.
They are talking about health care reform, and every major poll on the subject has shown that Americans have fallen victim to a disinformation campaign from anti-reform conservatives.
The point here isn't to blame the media for the disinformation campaign. The blame for that falls on right-wingers desperate to defeat health care reform.
But the media shouldn't feel any obligation to treat the disinformation campaign as if it were a serious attempt at discourse. There's nothing wrong with calling liars liars. In fact, there's no better way to earn the respect of the public than by telling the truth, as Montgomery and Kornblut do later in the article when they dismiss the death panel nonsense as "false."
What's really happening here is that Fox's screwball view of journalistic integrity ("fair and balanced" instead of "honest and accurate") has infected too many minds.
Even if Fox weren't an overtly partisan network, the implication of the idea that news stories should be "fair and balanced" is that the primary goal of a news story is to serve the interests of subjects of the news report. ("We'll be fair to both sides in this story.")
The problem with that is that news stories aren't about serving the needs of their subjects. News stories should serve the needs of the reader. When people read news stories, they want to find out the truth, whether or not that has anything to do with the interests of any of the sides in a particular debate.
Journalism should not be about giving fair treatment to the subjects of news reports, journalism should be about uncovering the real story, whatever it might be. Fairness and balance have nothing to do with it.
If one side is telling most of the lies, you can't be balanced (as in "both sides are lying...") in reporting that fact. You can only be accurate -- and that's all that reasonable people should ask.