Feigning disinterest in the difference between accuracy and inaccuracy is not ‘objective’ journalism: A case study

Feigning disinterest in the difference between accuracy and inaccuracy is not ‘objective’ journalism: A case study February 16, 2016

Religion News Service should be nominated for some kind of award for So Timid They’re Inaccurate headlines for this bit of equivocation: “Ted Nugent’s Facebook post on guns and Jews draws charges of anti-Semitism.”

Yeah, the touchy PC-crowd is leveling “charges of anti-Semitism” because Nugent said Jews are “punks” and “evil” and that they “hate good over evil,” and because he suggested that all American Jews are disloyal agents of Israel, referred to New York as “Jew York.” Nugent then followed it up with a post describing Holocaust victims as “soulless sheep,” doubly suggesting that Jews are subhuman. Critics are criticizing this as “anti-Semitism,” but that’s apparently just their overly critical opinion and not the whole story. Ugh.

Contrast that awful RNS headline with that of the SPLC’s report on the demented, racist rocker’s posts: “Ted Nugent’s Anti-Semitic Posts Drawing Widespread Criticism.” The SPLC headline, like the one from RNS, acknowledges that the news hook here is the criticism in response to Nugent. “Famously racist man says racist thing,” isn’t actually breaking news. But “Famously racist man finally facing consequences for saying racist things” is.

But note the major difference between these headlines. SPLC accurately identifies Nugent’s remarks as anti-Semitic. Because, in fact, they undeniably are exactly that. The RNS headline balks at making that identification, sub-contracting that designation to unnamed critics. It thus suggests that whether or not Nugent’s hateful remarks are anti-Semitic is a matter of legitimate dispute, and that journalistic objectivity, somehow, requires that both sides of that dispute be respected.

An “objective” disinterest between lies and truth, between accuracy and inaccuracy, is really not helpful.

It’s instructive to look at this latest bit of Nugent news to see how various news outlets handled this headline:

• Nugent’s hometown paper, the Detroit Free Press, passes the test: “Ted Nugent’s anti-Semitic Facebook post blasted.”

Nuge• Detroit’s CBS affiliate gets it right too: “Ted Nugent Draws Widespread Criticism For Anti-Semitic, Gun Control Rant.”

• Here’s another good one from a Patch site: “Ted Nugent in Hot Water Over Anti-Semitic Comments.” That uses some old-school headline-ese — “in hot water” — but still manages to be 100-percent accurate and to convey the actual news here — which isn’t that Nugent is in trouble because some critic somewhere is accusing him of something, but that he’s in trouble for what he very clearly did.

Huffington Post gets it right: “Gun Owners Pressure NRA Over Ted Nugent’s Anti-Semitic Rant.”

• Talking Points Memo covers it well: “Ted Nugent Blames Jews for Gun Control in Anti-Semitic Facebook Rant.”

• The New York Daily News takes a slightly different angle, but still accurately identifies what this story is about: “Ted Nugent defends anti-Semitic message on gun control.”

The Washington Times flubs the news angle: “Ted Nugent blames Jews for gun control in Facebook posts.” All that does is amplify Nugent’s original post. That’s not reporting, it’s just retweeting.

• The Chicago Tribune correctly and specifically identifies the news angle, but then faceplants — twice — in its conclusion: “NRA urged to remove Ted Nugent from board over ‘anti-Semitic’ outburst.” Problem No. 1 there: Those quotes around the term anti-Semitic are not scare-quotes meant to convey irony, but they’re meant to attribute to designation only to Nugent’s critics thereby, again, suggesting that this designation is a matter of legitimate dispute. Problem No. 2: Even though that’s never what they’re supposed to mean in newspaper headlines, the Trib surely knows that a big chunk of readers interpret them as scare quotes — as signifying that the phrase is meant ironically and should be regarded dismissively, as something so-called-but-not-genuinely-so. This is a terrible headline.

• The Daily Mail, unsurprisingly, also trips over its own tongue: “Ted Nugent under fire for ‘anti-Semitic’ Facebook post calling pro-gun control Jewish politicians ‘Nazis in disguise.’” The Daily Mail is awful. But you knew that.

• The right-wing website NewsMax can’t bring itself to accurately identify the nature of Nugent’s posts: “NRA-Ted Nugent: Gun Owners Seek Distance After Jewish Rant.” Glenn Beck’s Blaze took the same tack: “Ted Nugent Blasted by Jewish Groups (and Gun Owners) Over Facebook Post on Jews and Gun Control.” Rather than accurately state that “Nugent is in hot water over anti-Semitic comments,” they go fuzzy — he simply gave a “Jewish Rant,” something about “Jews and Gun Control.” Maybe that means he recited Isaiah 2:4 in Hebrew. That’s horribly misleading, but at least it avoids the suggestion that some group of unnamed sensitive “critics” are the only ones claiming that Nugent is anti-Semitic.




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