The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Get It First, Get It Right’

Posted on | January 25, 2019 | Comments Off on ‘Get It First, Get It Right’

The six-word slogan of The Washington Times under the editorship of Wes Pruden should be drilled into the mind of everyone who wants to be taken seriously in the news business. Mister Pruden hated blogs and was not an enthusiast for the concept of “citizen journalism.” (He hated the pretentious word “journalist,” and preferred “newsman.” We might call someone a reporter, an editor, a columnist, but we never used the word “journalist” in the pages of the Times.) Mister Pruden had a low tolerance for many bad practices which are now sadly common in the media, including the kind of rush to judgment that led so many people to denounce the Covington Catholic boys before seeing the full video.

“Get It First, Get It Right” — and you’re doing a disservice to your readers if, in your haste to be first, you’re wrong. When I worked at the Times, we used to laugh at daily corrections page in the Washington Post, which despite their greater prestige (and larger staff) made far more mistakes than we did. You didn’t want to be the guy who was responsible for an error that caused the Times to have to issue a correction, and during my time there we certainly never had anything as embarrassing as the Post‘s Janet Cooke scandal, when a Pulitzer-winning article was proven to be fabricated, or the New York Times‘ Jayson Blair scandal.

Mister Pruden’s old-fashioned attitudes — he was the son of an Arkansas Baptist preacher — were resented by some people in The Washington Times newsroom, but nowadays when we witness the media destroying their own credibility on a daily basis, we could use some Prudenism.

Julie Kelly observes how Jonah Goldberg rationalized National Review‘s haste to condemn the Covington Catholic boys:

The easy explanation for their bad behavior this weekend would be confirmation bias, the propensity to select or ignore evidence to support a specific viewpoint. Anti-Trump “conservatives” long ago decided that Donald Trump not only is unfit for office, but that his supporters are ignorant rubes with racist tendencies. . . .
In an interview Monday night, Goldberg again defended his side’s confirmation bias by invoking another tactic — false equivalence. “The confirmation bias that says, ah ha, this proves that the people I disagree with aren’t just wrong, they’re evil, which is rampant on both sides of the aisle these days.” Contrary to how Goldberg tries to sell it, it’s pernicious on one side: His.

Indeed, it seems the anti-Trump crowd (whether out-and-out liberals or #NeverTrump Republicans) have regularly out-blundered the pro-Trump Right when it comes to impulsive seat-of-the-pants judgments.

It doesn’t matter how “rampant” confirmation bias may be “on both sides of the aisle.” What matters is whether our gut hunches lead us to get it right, or whether our instincts lead to errors. And what also matters is being willing to distrust our instincts, to second-guess our hunches, to wait for facts to develop before deciding to comment. It is foolish for Goldberg to try to excuse a blunder as spectacular as Nick Frankovich’s National Review piece, ”The Covington Students Might As Well Have Just Spit on the Cross,” by saying “both sides” make such mistakes.

(Also, my editor’s eye notices Julie Kelly used “pernicious” where she probably meant “pervasive,” but why be pedantic at this point?)

How many times have I watched Twitter’s reaction to a possible terrorist event — a mass shooting or whatever — and cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the motive? As a general rule, we cannot know why an act of violence happened until we know who committed it, and until police name the suspect (or unless he was doing something as obvious as shouting “Allahu Akbar!”) we should avoid speculating on the motive.

Does the name Jarrod Ramos ring a bell?

When a gunman went on a rampage at the offices of the Annapolis Capital, a lot of liberals immediately jumped to the conclusion that this must be right-wing terrorism inspired by Trump’s criticism of the “fake news” media as “the enemy of the people.” But no, it was Jarrod Ramos:

A Laurel man with a long-standing grudge against The Capital is being held as the suspect in the deadly shooting Thursday at the Annapolis newspaper, according to law enforcement sources.
Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, according to online court records. . . .
In 2012, Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper and a columnist over a July 2011 article that covered a criminal harassment charge against him.
He brought the suit against then-columnist Eric Hartley, naming Capital Gazette Communications and Thomas Marquardt, the paper’s former editor and publisher, as defendants. . . .
Marquardt said he wasn’t surprised to hear Ramos identified as the alleged gunman, saying he started harassing the paper and its staff shortly after the 2011 article. The harassment escalated for years with online threats, Marquardt said.
“I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence,” Marquardt said from his retirement home in Florida. “I even told my wife, ‘We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.’ ”


Not terrorism. Not inspired by Trump. Just another deranged wacko, confirming my frequent observation that Crazy People Are Dangerous.

Don’t let a fear of being scooped on a breaking news story lead you to engage in unwarranted speculation. Distrust your own biases, whatever that bias may be, when you feel an urge to comment on a situation where you don’t know all the facts. It’s one thing to say, “Well, this might be terrorism,” if you immediately follow that by saying, “But we don’t know, and maybe it’s just some random maniac.” There are lots of random maniacs out there nowadays, some of whom will sue you for calling them maniacs, and you might have to ask your friends to fly down to Vero Beach to testify that in their professional opinion, the plaintiff is indeed a maniac. But why bring that up at such a time as this?

Well, there’s breaking news this morning, so I’ll have to leave off this lecture about jumping to conclusions. We’re all innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, even Roger Stone.




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