Friday, March 30, 2007

Why Aren't Stories Like These In The Papers?

Marty Lederman reports the relevant language in the House and Senate bills concerning what Senator McCain is reported to call a "forced surrender date." It is informative to actually read the text of the legislation. I am not going to comment on the legislative texts. I'm going to ask why the newspapers and news magazines don't give us news stories like this? Lederman writes:
One oddity, however, is that it remains rare for newspapers and other outlets to link to, or even quote from, important legislation being considered in Congress, even when it's the grist for front-page stories. The recent legislative debates concerning proposals to hasten withdrawal from Iraq are a prime example. I've yet to see a single newspaper article online that actually links to or quotes from the provisions that have been the subject of such heated debate in Washington over the past few weeks. It's odd to expect the public to be able to meaningfully understand and debate these important initiatives without knowing what they say.
Maybe it is odd to expect the public to be able to express meaningful views on proposed legislation when the proposed legislative language is not readily available. Maybe it is not. Maybe it is odd to assume that assertions made by politicians and pollsters about the will of the voters have meaning when we know that stories like Lederman's do not routinely appear in the news sources that are readily available to us.

It also seems to me, perhaps a bit odd that we do not routinely find news articles like Lederman's. Surely at least part of the news story about the "forced surrender date" is what is required by the written language in each piece of legislation in question. Sometimes I wonder why it is thought that the "news" is what politicians say. Yet, that seems to me mostly what we read and hear in the "news," and it seems that those who report the "news" believe they learn what the news story is by asking politicians to comment.

There have been many times in the past that I've read and heard news stories about legislation and statutes and court opinions, and I've suspected that I wasn't getting the entire story (or the "rest of the story" to borrow from Paul Harvey). In such cases, when I've taken the time to find the legislation or statute or court opinion, very often I've discovered that my (more informed view) of the story was quite different from the press stories. I think the curious thing about my experiences is that because of the web it has generally taken very little time for me to obtain the original materials. In many cases I've obtained a copy of the original materials in 10 or 15 minutes or less, and I've read what I was looking for in far less than an hour. I would guess that Lederman wrote his story, including obtaining the statutory text, in under an hour.

So, it seems to me we should routinely find "news" stories such as Lederman's in our newspapers and our news magazines. But, we don't. I guess those in the news industry simply don't think such stories fall within the realm of news. I think that should seem odd to us. Or, perhaps those who write the "news" stories aren't very competent.

In any case, when I'm interested in a controversial issue concerning politics and government I simply don't trust the "news."

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