Saturday, July 29, 2006

An urgent, continuing discussion

There is something very important for those of us in the news business in the recent Harris Poll finding that half the adults in the country now believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we invaded. To me, that and the related findings reported here are nothing less than a Red Alert for the Reality Community.

Here's a snip:

Despite being widely reported in the media that the U.S. and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, surprisingly; more U.S. adults (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq. This is an increase from 36 percent in February 2005.

We have to figure out what this means. It's obviously a problem for us if people don't believe us; it's far worse news for the idea of democracy and self-government. If we can't get more than half the country to agree on the basic facts – not what to do about them, just what they are – there's no hope for civic conversation or shared decision-making. We'll never be able to solve problems if we can't agree on the vocabulary to describe them.

I don't have a definitive answer for this, but I know for sure it will involve the issues of trust and transparency we talk about all the time. We're going to talk about them even more.

I also suspect that it will end up turning on what people think of how we report the local news they know best. We once lost an important source for an investigative story in Anchorage because the woman wouldn't go on the record. Why not? Her husband had an odd last name that had been consistently misspelled by his local paper (not us) when he was a high-school football player, and he didn't trust the press to get things right.

Let's plan to introduce this discussion during our break-out session in Ft. Worth next month. It will be a brief and busy session with lots to cover, but this needs to be a constant and urgent discussion.
–Howard Weaver

P.S. For those who asked: Yes, I have been on vacaction. But there are lots of odd moments available even so. This comes during a layover in the San Diego airport with a decent wifi connection ...

1 comment:

  1. > "We have to figure out what this means. It's obviously a problem for us if people don't believe us..."

    Would have been helpful to have an agree/disagree question like "According to the press, Iraq had WMDs" - it's really your problem, if they answer yes to that one.
    (alternatively, perhaps the WMD-believers don't read papers.)

    Why not set up a Readers Circle and poll the members regularly, so you can find out for yourself just what take-home messages readers are getting from your paper? Then tune your coverage accordingly.