New York Times's Washington Bureau Chief: Reddit IAmA

by Nitesh Arora

David Leonhardt, Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times does an iAmA on Reddit. Here's an excerpt:

"You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts." -- Why in the name of balance does the Times and really most of the mainstream media continue to allow politicians and political talking heads a platform to state things that are objectively false?
    Great topic to start with. One of the tricky issues for mainstream journalism is the middle ground between undeniable fact and opinion. I won't spend too much time quoting my old articles, today but Lessons From the Malaise seems directly relevant to this question. In it, I wrote: "[Some] truths may not rise to the level of two plus two equals four, but they are not so different from the knowledge that the earth is round or that smoking causes cancer.
    The earth is not perfectly round, of course. Some smokers will never get cancer, while most cancer is not caused by smoking. Yet in the ways that matter most, the earth is still round, and smoking does cause cancer. Both of these facts are illustrative in another way, too: seemingly smart people spent decades denying them."
    It's easy for us to deal with 2+2. And it's fairly easy for us to deal with an opinion, like "This policy should pass Congress;" we also quote someone who says it shouldn't. But the gray area is harder. And yet I think we need to deal with it: we sometimes need to look for ways to say which side in a debate has more claim on the available evidence.
    A question for you (or another Redditor): which things that are "objectively false" do we not do a good enough job of explaining to be such?