The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

By Kathleen Hall Jamieson; Paul Waldman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Press as
Custodian of Fact

Just as politicians sometimes succeed in deceiving the public, journalists sometimes fail in their task of discovering and describing the knowable, relevant information at play in public discourse. Some cynics believe that politicians always lie. Still, the frequency with which they choose to do so and succeed when they do is in part a function of the vigilance with which reporters discover facts, sort the relevant from the meaningless, and hold those in public life to standards of truthfulness. When reporters carry out these tasks, politicians and those who seek to influence them are deterred from straying from the truth, and informed decision making on the part of the public becomes more likely. In our view, every successful deception or persistent public misconception can be understood in part as a failure on the part of the press in its role as custodian of fact.

New Yorker editor David Remnick captured the notion of the press we have been advocating in the phrase “informed aggressive skepticism.” 1 This kind of reporting is informed about the facts that matter, the legislative and political context in which they are situated and by which they are shaped, the points of contest in a campaign, the relationship between these promises and governance, and the history and biography of those who would lead. This kind of reporting is aggressive in ferreting out the truth of a situation as best it can be known, rejecting spin for substance, and holding those who lead accountable. Finally, this kind of reporting is skeptical—neither worshipful nor cynical—toward the institutions and individuals who hold power.

-165-

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The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction xi
  • The Press Effect *
  • Chapter 1 - The Press as Storyteller 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part I 24
  • Chapter 3 - The Press as Amateur Psychologist, Part II 41
  • Chapter 4 - The Press as Soothsayer 74
  • Chapter 5 - The Press as Shaper of Events 95
  • Chapter 6 - The Press as Patriot 130
  • Chapter 7 - The Press as Custodian of Fact 165
  • Conclusion 194
  • Notes 199
  • Index 209
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