Letters to the Editors: A New Indy Star?

April 10, 2012

The tour of duty of the earring-wearing, socially hip, corporately assigned editor of the Indianapolis Star is over. Let us hope that his replacement will understand that it has become easier, not harder, for government to lie to the newspaper’s readers.

That politicians are liars should not be news to a journalist, of course, but neither is it a banal polemic. It can be statistically demonstrated: A study of 258 government projects found that under estimates “could not be explained by error and were best explained by strategic misrepresentation — that is, lying.” (1)

Examples of how editors once saved readers from such deception abound in the history of American journalism. (2)  Particularly instructive was the hounding from public office of the various city political machines of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Newsrooms of that day, including the one in Indianapolis, not only shot down the lie but also pursued the liar — to ruin, if necessary.

Today’s Indy Star, though, has lost the ability to threaten any but officaldom’s lowliest press secretary. Here is a string of enduring official lies bought hook, line and sinker during this passing editorial regime:

It is not necessary to go into every lie that flew cover for every Star writer addressing every continuing policy disaster. The Minimum Wage, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Prevailing Wage, the War Powers Resolution and most recently the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are a few where the Star had difficulty seeing that results didn’t square with rationale. We almost forgot to mention the newspaper’s inexplicable complacency about a Green Revolution that would destroy advertisers’ bottom lines and inflate readers’ utility bills.

It need only be said that as the keys change to the editor’s office, the Star’s sense of duty to sort the lies from the truth is at a critical stage.

One solution can be found in a reconstruction of the historical American newspaper, i.e., a single publisher-owner rather than endless waves of corporate managers (we called them occupiers, in my newsroom). What seems to work best is a personal, even familial, financial, political and continuing stake in the local community.

The bad news is that this will require a keener appreciation by newspaper investors of the nature of private property and how wealth is created in mass media or anywhere else.

The good news, though, will come whether or not the Star changes course. The speed and size of the current information explosion, plus the disaster that has been the current newsroom model, ensures that competing mediums will figure it out soon enough.

— Craig Ladwig

Resources

  1. Bvent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm and Soren Buhl. “Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” Journal of American Planning, summer 2002.
  2. Marvin Olasky. Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism: A Narrative History.
  3. Craig Ladwig. “Covering ‘Variable Costs’ in the Daniels Administration.” The Writers Group, Oct. 17, 2011.
  4. 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government.
  5. Charles Freeland. “Public Education Without Romance.” The Indiana Policy Review, winter 2001.
  6. Andrew Coulson. “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education.” Cato Journal, winter 2010.
  7. Scott Rasmussen. The People’s Money. Threshold Editions, New York, N.Y., 2012.
  8. Michael F. Cannon. “Sometimes, Governments Lie.” Cato@Liberty.com (last viewed April 9, 2012).


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