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What we should expect from our news.

From time to time since February 2008, when my long article on journalism and the news media first appeared in the online version of Skeptic * , people have asked me for more specifics on what I regard as the building blocks of valid, serious-minded news coverage. This is going to be a lengthy post, so I'll dive right in without further preamble. The News must be apolitical. This line of thought reached critical mass in 2001 with the controversy over Bernie Goldberg and his muck-raking book, Bias ** , which savaged the mainstream media for its strong (and unapologetic) left ward tilt. It's a familiar argument by now and there's no need to go into it at any great length. I think we'd get a fairly universal buy-in—at least in principle—on the idea that the News should never have a specific political agenda, Left or Right. That consensus is likely to crumble a bit when you g et to a more pointed discussion of implementation. For example, we'd have no trouble finding
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Innocent till jurors start to really dislike you?

Here's yet another case , tragic in countless senses, where overzealous prosecutors jumped the gun and focused on the wrong suspect — the father, who spent eight months in jail — before learning six years later that someone else, in this instance a convicted sex offender, had done the grisly deed. The remarkabl e work of The Innocence Project teaches us that these episodes are hardly a rarity. All told, as of this writing, Scheck, Neufeld et al have freed 254 convicts who were wrongly (and, too often, wrongfully) co nvicted. This is why I've said many times that the standards of evidence, or what we call evidence, are way too lenient. (See particularly here and here . If you're a glutton for punishment [no pun intended], you might also want to read my long September '09 piece for Skeptic , " Criminal Injustice .") I am gravitating more and m ore to the position that if there isn't verifiable physical evidence linking someone to a crime scene, no charg

Life lessons from my Kenmore. Part 2.

Had an IM exchange over the weekend with an erstwhile editor of mine at the Wall Street Journal . He happened to mention that he'd seen Part 1 of this little series, and he thought it was much ado about nothing. "A cute little item," he said, "but what's the upshot? OK, so we can't possibly know everything all the time. So? We do the best we can based on the information we have. You can't get all caught up in what you don't know all the time, or else nothing would ever get done." That sort of shruggish, "big deal/so what?" outlook overlooks the crucial implications here for human fallibility and, in turn, the humility we ought to feel about the things we think we know. Sure, we still n eed to get things done. It's just that maybe we ought to do them with somewhat less certitude about our grasp of the pertinent facts than many of us display as we go about our business. As one of the most obvious and relatable examples, let's ta

The folly of forensics: lessons from my egg roll.

If you made it all the way through my very long Skeptic article on the criminal-justice system, you know that eyewitness identifications — once viewed as the gold standard of guilt in criminal cases, especially rapes — are now being revealed as the shaky evidentiary tool that law-enforcement officials a lway s p rivately knew them to be. In fully 75% of the DNA-based exonerations wrought by the In nocence Project , there had been a positive ID at trial . Tonight I got a lesson from my egg roll in why so-called "forensics science" should probably be the next to go out the window. Some background. Sunday night after dinner I swept and vacuumed, and this morning my wife and I were both out of the house early without eating breakfast. In other words, nothing took place on the kitchen table all day until dinner. I was the first to arrive home, and in fact, when I walked into the house at about 4: 30, with the sun streaming through the blinds and across the hardwood floors of t

Why real news is, indeed, fake.

I've taken three lengthy Uber trips in the past month. All of the drivers got around to asking what I did for a living. When I replied, “I teach journalism,” two of the three exclaimed, “Ahh, fake news! ” It took the third driver a few extra lines of conversation, but she eventually got there too. For those of us engaged in showing young people how the media are supposed to work, there is no escaping the sturm und drang over fake news. Needless to say, the term has itself acquired a patina of inauthenticity, given its most celebrated user's tendency to invoke it to mean, “This news makes me look bad...ergo it's fake.” (Though I doubt that Trump uses, or even knows, the word ergo .) In fairness, however, those of us who deal in the foundations of journalism understand that the fake-news meme cannot be dismissed simply as red meat that a pathologically insecure president tosses into his supporters' den with discomfiting regularity. Actually, fakery is endemic to the ge

The gift of perspective: the sequel.

The second Sunday of 2017 strikes me as the perfect day for wading even more deeply into the waters of moral controversy than in my last post . So let me lay this one on you: Pets and children do not understand the concept of "a necessary evil" or "for your own good." Therefore, from the vantage point of the pet or child, getting a vaccination or a nail trim may well be the same as, say, being sodomized with a pencil. We are the only ones in the scenario who are confident in the propriety of one act vs. the other.  If you've ever seen a large recalcitrant dog getting its nails trimmed with a dremel, you know the phenomenon of which I speak. It is traumatizing for both the animal and the (uninitiated) observer; the dog will howl and bark and strain against any confinement as might another dog being fran kly tortured (except in th e case of a nail trim the animal has no recourse; if it's awake for the procedure, it's usually muzzled and held or tied