Mainstream Journalism As Just Another “Ism.” (The fallacy of the belief that the modern mainstream media has actual standards)

(Reuters) – Employers tried the carrot, then a small stick. Now they are turning to bigger cudgels.

For years they encouraged workers to improve their health and productivity with free screenings, discounted gym memberships and gift cards to lose weight. More recently, a small number charged smokers slightly higher premiums to get them to quit.

Results for these plans were lackluster, and healthcare costs continued to soar. So companies are taking advantage of new rules under President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul in 2014 to punish smokers and overweight workers.

—  How your company is watching your waistline, Kathleen Kingsbury, Reuters, Nov. 13, 2013

May I suggest that Ms. Kingsbury’s employer, Reuters, use a cudgel to get her and her editor to actually think about whether what they offer their news-media subscribers doesn’t contradict itself within the very same piece?  (Reuters is what was known for a century or so as a newswire service and is now just known as a news service; like the AP and UPI, it was historically, and now still mainly, a news-gathering service that publishes only through major-media outlets that subscribe to its services.  Such as Yahoo News, which is where I read it three weeks ago.  Thus, the reference to “their news-media subscribers.”  Okay, okay, I’m a journalism pedant.  I even know that Reuters is pronounced Royters, not Rooters, and that unlike AP and the old UPI it is a British import.  Thanks, Dad!)

“Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which takes effect in January, companies can offer a reward of up to 30 percent of healthcare costs paid by the employee to those who complete voluntary programs like smoking cessation, a risk assessment or biometric tests like waist measurement,” the article, which is lengthy, explains about midway through. Turns out, though, that this provision merely “grandfathers in” a practice that has been gaining strength in corporate America for quite a while, and that the statute puts two important limits on it: a ceiling, of 30 percent of healthcare costs paid by the employee, and that participation by the employee be entirely voluntary.  Ms. Kingsbury does mention this, way down in her article, and doesn’t explain how, then, the cudgel or even the carrot is prompted by or encouraged by Obamacare.  Which is what she says is the case.  Odd that in an article devoted almost entirely to reporting on the overt cudgel, and on the carrot-as de-facto-cudgel, she blames both a federal statute that has nothing to do with the former and little to do with the latter.

Except that, really, it isn’t odd.  News organizations have concluded that the way to increase their “page views” and therefore their ad revenue is to put “Here’s another awful consequence of Obamacare” in the headline or invitation-to-click.  The Reuters headline writer did not play this game. “How your company is watching your waistline” was an accurate summary of the facts. But Yahoo News did.  I clicked the article because Yahoo News was featuring it with an anti-Obamacare attention-grabber invitation-to-click-it.

Another major-news-media tactic, albeit prompted more by ideology than page-view bate, is the surprising outright-false statements of fact.  I don’t mean by Fox News or a Murdoch publication; I mean Politico and the Washington Post, for example.

The particular Politico article I have in mind at the moment, from Nov. 20, deserves a post here all its own. And it will get one, later today.  But the Washington Post matter is a simple, ongoing one: The greenlighting of the use by some of its op-ed columnists for overt disinformation–baldly false statements of fact, or representations of fact that are utterly unsupported by evidence.  The New York Times had for years given David Brooks license to do that, but it seems to have revoked that license several months ago in the wake of one after another after another really flagrant instances of that license’s use.  But the Washington Post?  Not so much.  Kathleen Parker, for example, regularly states in her column that Obamacare has resulted in the cutting of full-time private-sector jobs (in favor of part-time jobs).  In fact, full-time private-sector employment has increased in the last year in relation to part-time employment.

The sheer perniciousness of the tsunami of casual misrepresentations of fact by mainstream journalism outlets on the subject of the ACA (not to mention on the subject of “the debt,” Medicare, and Social Security) threatens to turn journalism into just another “ism.”  “Journal” used to have something to do with recording, reporting on, facts. The operative words there are “used to.”  It coincides, of course, with this president’s weird indifference to it and only-sporadic, always belated, responses; that is a veritable hallmark of this presidency.  But time was when the venerable news organizations had standards worthy of the word, and adhered to them.