Today still more members of the news media — in this case, Reuters and CNBC — fell for a hoax. On the basis of a dubious press release, they reported that the Chamber of Commerce had changed its position on climate change legislation. CNBC read the fake press release on the air, and Reuters reported it, in an article that was then picked up by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
I was struck by the explanation of the Reuters spokesman quoted in the linked article. The spokesman is quoted as saying: “Reuters has an obligation to its clients to publish news and information that could move financial markets, and this story had the potential to do that.” My old professor at the Ohio State University School of Journalism, Marty Brian, must be rolling in her grave at that one! Consider that the quote from the Reuters spokesman equates an admitted hoax with “news and information” and suggests that Reuters’ paramount obligation is to publish whatever comes its way, without doing anything to determine its veracity first. That concept is antithetical to true professional journalism, which values accuracy above speed and insists upon sourcing and careful fact-checking — particularly of a story that reports that a vocal opponent of legislation has abruptly and inexplicably changed its position. Doesn’t anyone at CNBC and Reuters have a reporter’s gut instinct, or at least a willingness to take a moment to check the Chamber of Commerce website to see if the press release even is posted there?
Normally I would decry the efforts of the hoaxers, but I have come to believe that they probably are performing a salutary function for the world at large. Why attach credibility to what you read from the news media if they don’t even bother to check press releases before publishing them?
November 9, 2009 will be the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That singular event — which led to the liberation of millions of people trapped in the communist dictatorships behind the Iron Curtain — is one of the most notable achievements of modern American foreign policy, ranking with the Marshall Plan and the enlightened governance of post-war Japan. For the long decades of the Cold War, American Presidents and politicians of both political parties steadfastly opposed communism and the expansionist efforts of the Soviet Union. That process culminated in the political and economic bankruptcy of the Soviet Union and, ultimately, in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
President Obama’s decision to change his plans, so that he will not attend the ceremonies commemorating the 20th anniversary, is extremely disappointing precisely because the fall of the Berlin Wall was a significant American foreign policy accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated by the American President. It also was an accomplishment that sent the kinds of messages that you would think President Obama would want to send — messages of resolution and commitment. In the wake of President Obama’s decision to retreat from the European missile defense system proposed by the Bush Administration and his decision to publicly revisit our Afghan policy, it would seem to be a wonderful time for a presidential visit to Berlin to commemorate a tremendous achievement that was the product of decades of concerted, bipartisan effort.
President Obama has often apologized for what he considers to be American excesses; why not celebrate what is unquestionably an American triumph? Why not let the American people bask for a moment in the grateful thanks of the peoples of eastern Europe? In an era where the President can jet off to Copenhagen to pitch the Olympics for his adopted hometown of Chicago, what could possibly keep the President from attending such a significant event?