Shallow journalism is embarrassing

In 2010, the reelection campaign of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, anxious to avoid facing Republican Sue Lowden in the general election, zeroed in on this Lowden statement:

“I think that bartering is really good. Those doctors who you pay cash, you can barter, and that would get prices down in a hurry. And I would say, go out, go ahead out and pay cash for whatever your medical needs are, and go ahead and barter with your doctor.”

The next thing we knew, a Reid supporter in a chicken suit was dogging Lowden, claiming that trading chickens for health care is preposterous. Journalists immediately joined in on the Lowden pounding like an arm of the Reid campaign. Not one Nevada reporter we read or heard actually scrutinized Lowden’s proposal. If some had, they might have learned that at least 11 state governments—including Nevada—and numerous municipalities regulated barter as a way of coping with the recession. Nevada Revised Statutes and Nevada Taxation Department regulations dealt with “barter clubs,” as did Internal Revenue Service procedures. At U-Exchange online, Nevadans were bartering scuba instruction, slot machines, photography, furniture, cars, flight instruction and even real estate. Economist Thomas Cargill said medical office bureaucracies are anxious to deal with patients who make it easier to avoid more paperwork.

But it was easier to write stories poking fun at Lowden, so the press helped Reid take Lowden out in the primary and throw the GOP nomination to Sharron Angle.

Then, Reid’s campaign started making fun of Angle’s notion of getting rid of the federal Departments of Education and Energy and several subcabinet agencies. Once again, no homework or research was done by journalists. Reporters tended to list the departmental abolition proposal among several Angle proposals to show the absurdity of her platform. But abolishing federal programs is right in the mainstream of the Republican Party. For instance, among those who supported abolishing the Department of Education was Ronald Reagan. Heard of him? He reportedly had pretty good GOP credentials.

We’d love to avoid agreeing with Donald Trump about anything, but he’s not altogether wrong on shoddy journalism, and there is no better proof than the way journalism endorsed his “Pocahontas” slur against Elizabeth Warren by slanting the news coverage of her DNA test.

Journalists rushed to do the story without enough interviews or research. One denunciation of Warren by an unelected Cherokee official was emphasized and a statement of support by an elected Cherokee official was deemphasized—as was the near-unanimous round of supporting statements by other tribal officials. Warren’s consultation with a tribal official on how to announce the results was mostly unreported. When Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery spoke to numerous Native American officials, she found them frustrated that “non-Native people are defining a debate about Native people without letting them speak for themselves.”

The hard work of journalism is too often going undone.