The most fundamental questions of journalism are Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. With those questions, you can get into the specifics of anything that has occurred. Without them, there can be no details and, worse, no accountability. Unfortunately, too many members of the news media have forgotten them.
When Michelle Bachmann said recently that Christians have to convert as many Jews as possible because Jesus Christ will return soon, someone should have asked her, “When? Will it be a month? A year? A decade? A century? Twelve millennia?” Pin down her claim — and then hold her to it. If she says Christ will return within a year, then mark it on your calendar and, a year from now when he hasn’t, return to her office and confront her with the incorrectness of her prediction. Then — and here’s the important part — never go to her for a quote about anything ever again! Treat her like those wacky preachers who tell us the world will end on a certain date. When it doesn’t, you must never report their future proclamations, but you should tell the public how wrong they were.
The same standard can be applied to anyone on CNBC or any other business channel. When you make a prediction about a stock, a company, or the economy in general, and it turns out you’re wrong, you should be held accountable for your error. And when you make that error repeatedly, your information should be removed from the guest booker’s contact list. After all, you wouldn’t keep asking the same guy, “Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?” if every year his answer was the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Anyone who’s ever written an essay in high school and college has seen the red ink of a professor wondering where a citation came from because you didn’t include footnotes. The same scrutiny must be applied to public statements by presidential candidates. When CNN couldn’t find anyone to corroborate some of the stories in Ben Carson’s autobiography, he brushed aside the inquiries by saying, “They’re well-documented.” The next words out of every reporter’s mouth should have been, “Where are they well-documented? Other than in your own book, can you give us a link to anyone who can verify what you’ve claimed?”
Multiple politicians and talk radio loudmouths predicted that Obamacare would kill hundreds of thousands of jobs and ruin the US economy, yet the opposite has occurred. Donald Trump is rarely asked for specifics on how he is going to accomplish many of the things he boasts he’ll get done if elected. Bill Kristol was wrong with every prediction he made about the Iraq War, yet he still gets invited to sit on Sunday morning talk show panels. Why are they allowed continued access to news media to repeat their propaganda without first being forced to explain why they weren’t even close to correct all those previous times? Moreover, for those no longer in office (I’m talking about you, Sarah Palin), why do their utterances and Facebook rantings even merit mention? If they won’t hold up to simple scrutiny, there’s no need to re-distribute them.
Hillary Clinton and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and the rest will argue that Who/What/When/Where/Why/How are all “gotcha” questions, but holding them (or anyone) accountable for their assertions — by demanding proof — isn’t a “gotcha” game. It is the most basic rule of journalism, and not enough people play by it.
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