The response PolitiFactRI editor Tim Murphy tacked onto the end of Jennifer Parrish’s objection to PolitiFact’s treatment of her is in keeping with something that I’ve found worrisome, lately.
Understandably, Murphy defends his department, but he does so in the form of an argument, without responding to or even acknowledging Parrish’s legitimate concerns. There’s no concession that the paper’s other sources were SEIU clients; there’s no explanation about why PolitiFact picked a particular fact to check; there’s no promise to look into claims made by the union. His commentary gives the impression of one party to a debate responding to another, not the disinterested judge that PolitiFact claims to be.
Murphy’s response brings to mind a recent column by Mark Patinkin, in which he defends newspapers — beginning with the cover price, but delving into the value proposition. He notes the number of reporters, some specialized; he talks about their watchdog function and the value of editors.
Arguments are possible, but for now I’d highlight what he doesn’t include: any sort of introspection about the paper’s responsibility to prove its value and question whether it’s doing the things that make a watchdog and layers of editors valuable. Maybe Rhode Islanders need and want a watchdog against powerful organizations that strive to change policy to their own benefit, not individual child care providers who are part-time advocates against those forces. Maybe skepticism about the watchdog function is justified when it looks like the DNC is doing the paper’s page layout.
Maybe when folks dip into the “splintered, random view” that Patinkin says he gets from online news, they see that the “informative portrait” they get through the paper is leaving out or amplifying details in a way that serves an agenda other than informing the consumer.