Palinphobia hurts journalism

The Washington Post published something yesterday that it shouldn’t have.

Why? Because it was false, as in fake.

Nevertheless, it’s worth highlighting here for the lessons we can learn from it. The piece was headlined:

Sarah Palin’s Plan to Reach Millions of Devoutly Religious People Through al Jazeera

It’s since been completely rewritten — because it was false — but the HTML for the botched item remains “sarah-palins-plan-to-reach-millions-of-devoutly-religious-people-through-al-jazeera.”

Oh, it remained that way when I first wrote this piece last night, but now it’s been redirected to “sarah-palins-when-politics-and-celebrity-meet/.” Interesante.

The entire hook of the piece was proven false, but the item was simply edited and rejiggered and so now the headline is:

Sarah Palin Tries to Stay Relevant

The piece was written by Suzi Parker, “an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of ‘Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.’” It’s the same misogynistic claptrap the media have been feeding us regarding Palin for years.

The item begins: “The Sarah Palin Story is a cautionary tale about what can happen when politics and celebrity meet.”

I’d argue that this whole embarrassing debacle for the Washington Post is actually a cautionary tale about what can happen when unbridled fear and loathing of Palin meets journalism.

It’s been bad for Palin, obviously, but just horrible for journalism. It has destroyed trust with many of its readers. It has turned some journalists and the media outlets that publish them into laughing stocks.

Two thoughts, though. The first is that if you are a media outlet that falls for a fake news item on a satirical website (that in this case published the item about Palin joining al Jazeera) and you run an entire piece about it, the proper correction is not to rewrite the story so that the “point” stays the same but, rather, to simply pull the story. The limp correction (since beefed up slightly) is not sufficient.

Secondly, the item wasn’t just false. It fell short of other journalistic standards as well. It included the old trope of quoting a poly sci professor who happens to agree with the journalist. Isn’t that also something we need to get past? How hard is it, in this country, to find an academic that will back up your hatred for a particular Republican?

That Suzi Parker wrote a false story is bad enough. And I get — believe me I get — how much the media are deranged when it comes to Palin. But certain journalistic standards must be met.

I didn’t go to journalism school but I have some advice I’d like to offer in any case: Don’t run false stories. When false stories are run and then proven to be false, retract them, don’t edit them as if they were “false, but essentially true.” Balance out stories with perspectives that are — wait for it — different from your own rather than those perspectives that reinforce your prejudices. Am I missing anything?

Picture of man whose fear and loathing of Sarah Palin has left him on the brink of insanity via Shutterstock.

  • Lola LB

    Not very hard, being as studies after studies show that academics tend to contribute to liberal politicians by a factor of 9 to 1.

  • Lola LB

    And other advice to journalist – STOP THROWING SOFTBALLS and start asking hard questions and holding the current powers-be accountable with tough, honest investigative reporting. I’m not so into full-throated French kissing in public by journalists.

  • Martha

    Weren’t there these people – now what were they called again? Oh, yes: editors! – whose job was to prevent stuff like this from happening?

    Whatever happened to them?

    • Lola LB

      Cost-cutting.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    If Parker worked for the WaPost instead of as an independent contributor, then I wonder if she would have been fired. Doubt it. The fact that the WaPost didn’t do an immediate and complete retraction of the “story” indicates that the WaPost prizes its political agenda above its credibility or trying to right its sinking-ship of a business. It’s been clear for a long time that the folks running the WaPost have no business sense.

    If I were a betting man, then I’d bet good money that we’ll see another piece from Parker in the WaPost soon.

  • Martha

    Y’know, I just thought of the perfect headline (never mind the story, somebody can write something to fit afterwards).

    “Sarah Palin: Next Pope?”

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      We’ve already kinda seen that. Remember Mollie’s first comment on her Early Media Failures post?

      “I’m going to assume this tweet (https://twitter.com/TheFix/statuses/300958162855550976) from the Washington Post’s “The Fix” is meant as a joke:

      “Pope Benedict, following Sarah Palin’s lead, resigns.”

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    “…the proper correction is not to rewrite the story so that the “point” stays the same…” This is what James Taranto at the WSJ calls “truthiness” or “fake but accurate.” Of course, journalists are supposed to be reporting what happens in real life. But perhaps this is where journalism is being influenced by religion — journalists feel like they’re new messiahs and are licensed to tell parables.

  • tmatt

    Wait a minute. Shouldn’t the man in the picture be wearing a gray suit? Or, at the least, a blue blazer — biz casual in the newsroom?

  • http://areformedcatholicinthepcusa.blogspot.com Reformed Catholic

    The link to the original HTML on the story no longer works …

  • DearbornGuy

    Mollie – spot on, as usual. And where are the standards of journalism where you may want to check more than one source before going to print? Maybe it was just too tempting to “pile on” Sarah. We need journalists that are willing to ask questions … to everyone. Not just the ones they disagree with.

  • Daniel

    Where’s the accountability? Or does it exist?

  • http://www.thebigtruth.com Tragic Christian

    Sarah Palin was once a governor, then a vice-presidential candidate. She’s been out of public office for more than four years. Yet the MSM still can’t let her go. (Anybody remember this kind of attention being paid to, say, Jack Kemp, or any other failed VP candidate? OK, John Edwards, but they wer forced to pay attention to him despite their preference) There’s a whole book of psychology that needs to be written about this. She’s everything the MSM hates: no Ivy League law degree, blue-collar background, evangelical, pro-life, heapin’ gobs of kids, handy with a gun — and yet by any measure a success in life (don’t get to be VP, big whoop, most of us don’t). I think they’re so puzzled, in part because she got to where she is without bowing before the feminist tropes. But they can’t let her go — have you SEEN the awards that trifling “Game Change” is getting? She lives rent-free in their heads 24/7, I hope it continues!

  • Julia

    What is it that so offends the media and movie/TV people?

    She reminds me of my Kansas pioneer forebearers and aunts who were much admired by their menfolk. No wilting flowers there. Lots of admiration for folks like Sarah. Is it the folksy way she talks? I have never figured out why she is such a lightening rod. Actually, she personifies what the feminists have always been saying is the ideal. I don’t get why they don’t admire her.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I agree that the story and its corrections have a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” quality, but I don’t see the GR entry here making the religious character of the matter very prominent. Ms. Parker’s foolishness seems to come from her antipathy to Ms. Palin more than from a failure to get religion.

    • mollie

      Well, I could have played it up more, you’re right, but I think it’s both. I was slightly hesitant to go completely off on it because the original text to the religion news story (remember the headline) was down the rabbit hole.

  • Stephen

    I was drawn to this story because of the headline which includes the name of Sarah Palin. I was prepared to encounter yet another disrespectful piece by some nobody using Palin’s name only to draw otherwise fruitless attention. I was pleasantly surprised to find your take spot on. The concept of journalism continues to suffer at the hands of those powerful enough to hide behind its promise by virtue of their ability to buy the ink, so to speak. The knee-jerk inclination to splash some negative — and totally off-base — headline … and the inability to admit error go to underscore the lack of courage by today’s journalists to exercise skepticism in an even-handed way. If I have one criticism of your own post, it would be to question the photo which I found to be a bit offputting. Otherwise, thanks! By the way, I came to your piece by way of a link provided by RealClearReligion.org — kudos to them.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

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