Facts as style

I love John Quiggin’s new idea:

“Newspapers, including the NYT, should include a set of factual conclusions, regularly updated, in their style manuals. The most relevant current example is that of global warming. As with the current account deficit (routinely glossed as ‘the broadest measure of the balance of payments’) the NYT should formulate a standard set of words, such as “a conclusion endorsed by every major scientific organization in the world’) to be used whenever the views of Repubs on the issue are mentioned.”

Truth, truthiness and balance

A style manual would allow us to see clearly see the positions of the publishers, which would be a major contribution in itself. It would also free the journalists from having to rehash these issues over and over. Online copies could simply hyperlink to pages laying out the justification for these positions, perhaps commissioning these positions themselves as journalistic pieces from scholars and other subject matter experts. However, such a process would inevitably politicize which subjects are treated as factual conclusions. Would the NY Times be prepared to state the economic consensus on unemployment insurance or rent control? How about the scientific case for the inheritability of intelligence? That would still be better than the status quo where the truth has little weight in any politicized matter. We should probably be honest that in the long run this would further politicize access, where right wing groups would give special access to groups that would let them lie, at least from time to time. If the Democrats are called liars every time they say they say that there are no important negatives to rent control or minimum wage laws then it won’t take them long to stop picking up the phone when the WSJ calls. Would a deeply polarized media (by access) be a price worth paying so that politicians would stop lying some of the time about some issue? That’s a tougher call, but I believe an increase in the willingness to call liars liars would be valuable.