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Sensible Talk Front Page Archive for August 2012

August 30, 2012

The Republican War on Journalism

What's the point of journalism? Reporters and editors ought to ask themselves that question before publishing another story about this year's U.S. Presidential campaign.

Hey, politicians have been lying since long before any of us were born. Elected officials lie to protect soldiers and spies in harm's way. Candidates twist and spin facts to win votes. This isn't new. But, in the past, when writers catch a politician in a lie - when they present actual, physical evidence that what a candidate or elected official said is not true - that politician almost always backed off, at the very least by changing the subject and pretending he or she never said anything wrong.

But that's not what's happening with Mitt Romney's campaign for president this year. Writers have caught in Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, in multiple lies about welfare, lies about Medicare, and even a lie about the closing of a GM plant in Ryan's Congressional district in Wisconsin (same link).

Instead of acknowledging the errors, or just dropping the attacks, the Republicans have doubled down, repeating the same lines in speech after speech, and ordering more runs of television ads repeating their lies. A Romney campaign official said, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."

So what's the point of journalism, then? Is it to provide a stenography service - to dutifully report what people say, then stay out of the way? Or is it to report truth, using research skills to flag lies and false statements for readers?

Because if the point of journalism is to tell truth, then journalists have no excuse for using the simplest, clearest language possible to call out Romney and Ryan.
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August 28, 2012

No, business owners don't build their businesses

So who really builds America's businesses? Is it entrepreneurs? Or is it the government?

The real answer is neither, and I'll get to that in a moment.

The whole issue of "who built that" blew up when Fox News and a bunch of Republican bloggers decided to twist one of President Obama's quotes. Here's what he actually said:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."

Let this be a lesson to all writers out there about the danger of using pronouns. Rephrase your words to avoid unfocused pronouns if you want to avoid this type of problem. From the context of the president's speech, it's pretty clear that President Obama was referencing "this unbelievable American system" and "roads and bridges" when he said that you didn't build "that." When reporting on the speech, the president's opponents dropped those preceding sentences, though, to make it appear that the president instead was referencing "you've got a business" when he said "you didn't build that."

Since this incident first blew up last month, the president's supporters have counter-attacked by pointing out every instance when someone hitting the president over this line accepted or benefited from some government program. When the Republicans planned a "We Build It" theme for their convention, writers noted that the Republicans' schedule speaker, Maryland entrepreneur Sher Valenzuela, actually built her business using $17 million in government loans and contracts.

But I don't care if someone finds an entrepreneur who started a business that accepted no government loans and no government contracts. I don't even care if that business doesn't use the Internet or any other government-funded or supported technology. No matter how independent an entrepreneur might be, there is no business on Earth that was built solely by its owner.

That's because owners don't build businesses. Customers do.
There's more...

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