Axis of Inaccuracy

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

One thing that journalism and the humanities have in common is that people don’t like either of them. Yet another thing they have in common is that journalists and English professors can’t figure out why.

“Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly,” the Gallup organization reported on September 21, 2012. Meanwhile, at the last Modern Language Association (MLA) convention, which this correspondent attended, the thousands of English professors in attendance could attend panels on topics such as “Making a Case for the Humanities: Advocacy and Audience”; and “Betrayal and the Function of the Humanities within the University.”

Two journalism professors from the University of Iowa think they know how journalism and the humanities can work together to bridge their respective credibility gaps. “There are no easy answers or game plans for what a remarriage of the humanities and journalism would look like,” David D. Perlmutter and David Dowling write in The Chronicle Review. “We are not asking the Gray Lady of New York to serialize Fifty Shades of Grey as a means to pay for its Iraq desk.”

“Rather, in a time of flux and uncertainty, bold experimentation is welcome and necessary.” Perhaps if English departments focused on more timeless works than Fifty Shades, the number of English majors would not be getting closer to the number of English professors.

Moreover, it is not the Iraq desk that is noticeably moribund at The New York Times but the Benghazi beat. “First, the WSJ [Wall Street Journal], now the NYT [New York Times]: CIA Director David Petraeus is feeling a little heat from the spotlight regarding Benghazi,” Diana West wrote in a column that appeared on the website of our sister organization, Accuracy in Media on November 6, 2012. “It’s an extremely soft-focus spot, however, one that obscures the most important question regarding Petraeus’ role in Obama administration mendacity in characterizing what was a planned terrorist attack as a violent melee growing from a ‘spontaneous’ protest over a Youtube video. That most important question is, Why, three days after this terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, did Petraeus go before the House Intelligence Committee and brief lawmakers that a Youtube video was to blame for a ‘spontaneous’ protest — wholly fictitious — that ‘went on,’ as ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger told ABC on September 14 following the Petraeus briefing, ‘for two to three hours’?”

The omission of any reference to Libya by Perlmutter and Dowling is particularly interesting since the former of them is the author or editor of at least four books on foreign news and war coverage. The professors also offer suggestions for local coverage/high school & college partnerships:

  • “Unleash the reporters to serialize that novel they always wanted to write about a local unsolved murder;”
  • “Train high schoolers to make a documentary about how the steep costs of college are affecting their plans for the future;”
  • “Create a poetry contest on the topic of a regional drought;”
  • “Invite a historian from the local college to excerpt her biography of a civil-rights leader.”

Accuracy in Academia’s textbook, Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying, written by the late Professor Christopher T. Warden, suggests some ideas for local coverage/journalism class assignments that students, and especially readers and viewers, might find more practical:

  • “Break down the cost of a gallon of gasoline;”
  • “Write a story about how a local gas station sets its prices;”
  • “Write a story about a local hospital’s payments and costs;” and
  • “Do a story on your local high school. Are there any shortages there? In what?”

Moreover, we published this textbook in 2009 when gas cost about half of what it does now. Yet and still, Obamacare had not yet passed with the cost of same escalating as each provision goes into effect. At the same time, education costs—K-12 through college—escalate each passing year at the local, state and federal levels with public officials from the White House out calling for more of the same.

Against this backdrop, it is truly remarkable that four years ago, when Professor Warden  wrote Voodoo Anyone?, he was more prescient than Messrs. Perlmutter and Dowling and their ilk are now. Before his academic posting at Troy University, a job he held at the time of his untimely death, Warden had been the editorial page editor of Investor’s Business Daily.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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