Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A suggestion for handling liars

As a card-carrying member of the elite liberal media, I can tell you that one of the foundations of our industry is seeking out and reporting the facts as we can confirm them.

To ferret out the truth, we depend on the candor and veracity of a number of sources. At best, mining the truth becomes the thread of any story or article even as we attempt to be fair to both sides of an issue.

But if after a couple of times we find that source to be unreliable or, say, a remorseless liar, we stop going to the well. In short order, we simply remove his or her name from our Rolodex.

What, then, do we make of Steve Schmidt, a strategist for the McCain campaign? Schmidt and others have repeatedly made false claims about Barack Obama's tax plan, saying that it would increase taxes on people that make as little as $42,000 a year. He knows this is a lie. It's been debunked as a lie many times over during the course of the campaign. It's become a bit of a joke. Except that it's not funny - lying to voters thwarts the political process.

So, where do we go from here? Do we - in the media - continually stick a microphone or recorder in Schmidt's face and allow him to resort to that misleading refrain? Do we quote Schmidt and then follow up with the truth in the same story? Or, maybe, do we stop considering Schmidt to be a reliable source?

It's something that I've done a number of times in my career: someone lies to me one too many times (like twice), and then I have to start going elsewhere for information.

I reckon that every reporter has dealt with this in the course of their career. There's really only one way to handle a source who remorselessly lies to you. The stakes are too high in these days of a 24-7 news cycle, where your mistakes and corrections can often take on a life of their own.

So, again, how do we handle Schmidt?

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