Sunday, April 08, 2007

Cargo Cult Journalism

I've got a new piece up at The Festering Swamp on a highly deceptive Washington Post story about Bush's "sixteen words" on Iraq seeking uranium from Africa. The story used an anecdote about the forged documents about a sale of uranium to discredit the idea that Iraq had ever sought uranium in the first place. The two don't follow, but that's concealed through the reporter's evasive language.

The story, brought to my attention by Patterico, shocked me because it was published in such a reputable newspaper. It has still not been corrected. So much for the Post's respect for factual accuracy.

I think the Iraq war is a bad idea. However, my personal thoughts shouldn't enter into whether a story is factually accurate. Double standards don't fly with me.

I am consciously invoking the spirit of scientific rigor the late Cathy Seipp quoted from Richard Feynman:

And the one feature Feynman noticed is missing from all cargo-cult science is what he calls “a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to...a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it.”

Seipp showed that spirit in her own journalism, when she attacked the unethical behavior of Michael Fumento, another conservative reporter.

. . . Fumento says (after suggesting that his nemesis, Business Week's Eamon Javers, has a "grease-lined hat") I should not have cooperated with the NY Times. According to his way of thinking, we on the right are all in this together, and should circle the wagons against any attack. But I have no more sympathy for that argument than I do for the notion that Jews should support Jack Abramoff.

Reporters need that spirit, or we end up with cargo-cult journalism like the Washington Post uranium story.



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