Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mistakes A-Plenty

The hot story in sports and politics this week has been Rush Limbaugh's failed attempt to be a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams. Normally, I wouldn't bother with something like this, but there are a couple of angles to the story that haven't been covered that much, if at all.

First, there's Limbaugh's past. Granted, some of the quotations attributed to Limbaugh by CNN and MSNBC were fabricated. Having said that, though, there's a part of me that thinks that he bears some responsibility for creating the environment on which the Left attacked him this week. One thing I've learned in doing commentary is that you don't want to give your critics ammunition with which they can attack you. The more inflammatory quotations from this past week may have been false, but there are other direct and real quotations from Limbaugh that can be spun into sounding racist. And given the Left's love of blatant dishonesty when it comes to conservatives (see Media Matters for a plethora of examples), it was only a matter of time before the Left used Rush's quotes, both real and fake, against him.

In this case, Rush forgot the idea that within each stereotype there is a kernel of truth. Has Rush made racial statements that went over the line or could be seen as going over the line? Absolutely. With that truth already in place, it wasn't tough to create statements that play to the stereotype the Left has created about Rush and about conservatives in general. When that happens, even people who might not think Rush is racist would have second thoughts about him.

Now, for the fabricated statements themselves. CNN, MSNBC, and any other media outlets who have quoted or shown the disputed quotations without doing the legwork before going to air with them have done a grave disservice to the journalism profession. Regardless of your political leanings, regardless of whether you like Rush, you guys have a job to do: report the news. Limbaugh attempting to be a part-owner of the St. Louis Rams is news enough, so why risk legal repercussions by embellishing the story with unverified quotations attributed to him? And, no, going in after the fact with a "we're still trying to verify the authenticity of the quotations" isn't good enough. You treated the quotations like they were gospel, and in doing so, you've painted yourself into quite a corner if you find the quotations are fraudulent. Is going after Limbaugh worth a libel suit?

But it goes beyond merely personal politics and a limited effect. Many media outlets are experiencing declining viewership/readership, due in no small part to the public not believing the media are telling the truth and believing that they're just grinding partisan axes. If the Limbaugh quotes are proven to be false and come from a Leftist source, the media as a whole may suffer, but none so much as the media outlets who ran with the quotations before verifying them.

Both sides of this situation have some decisions to make about how to proceed from here. But one thing's certain: mistakes were made from both sides, and it will take a Herculean effort to regain the high ground for them both.

No comments: