“so if there’s a mistake, it’s your ass.”
Looking into ethical breaches in journalism produces a volume of examples that should make us permanently skeptical of everything written without a mea culpa or first-person pronoun. The Daily Beast recently published an account of one of Hannah Rosin’s interview subjects for her recent bookThe End of Men. In a phone interview stay-at-home father Andy Hinds told Rosin, “I’d never been happier or more comfortable in my own skin than I have during my three year-stint staying home with my kids.” For the sake of pushing her argument, Rosin turned this sentiment into something else, “Andy likes watching the toddlers, but he is wistful about his old life, and somewhat defensive about his new one…These days when his wife suggests that he should go back to work, Andy feels ‘terrified.’ It’s been a long time, and he’s lost the stomach for the outside world.”
Slate’s Farhad Manjoo recently made a dramatic reversal of his stance on the iPhone 5, calling it “boring” and publishing a story with a headline “No, This is Not the Best iPhone Ever.” A month later he published a story entitled “The iPhone 5 is a Miracle,” arguing mostly that its industrial design is the techo-equivalent of an immaculate conception. That one person can hold two opinions that seem to refute one another is not surprising. Humans are hypocrites, and we sound like it when we think through our way through things in writing. Yet, which story should we accept as canonical fact? Which is truer than the other? How many months will it take for the miracle claim to be reversed again, or parsed with new found critiques?
There is an admittedly large gap between articulating one’s impressions of a cell phone and reporting on politics or war, but in a way, it is the simple reporting of events that is more dishonest, not because it gets dates or facts wrong but because it presents them as self-contained, subjectively stripped of the processes that brought them into being so that the world can always be thought of as linear and causal. This happened here, then consequently that happened, and this is what this person had to say about it. Typos, plagiarism, and simple human hypocrisy reveal the writer’s pathos as delusory. Consequently, evidence that delusions exist within the dogmatic kingdom of fact and reportage are treated with ruffled consternation, blaming the woe-begotten writer for having been caught in the act of servicing the needs of an audience.