Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Reporting ethics?

Obama has a mortgage! (Film at 11). No, wait... Obama has a mortgage and it appears that he got a good rate! No, wait... Oh, right, he got a discount! Right... a discount.

Like, if you shop for a new car, and the average price for that car is $25,000, and you manage to talk the dealer down to $24,000, you got a discount.

But, they gave a discount to a US Senator... shouldn't that make us suspicious? Shouldn't we report that to the world, and let the people decide if it's news worthy?

Well, let's look at this from another angle. Obama, as a politician, has probably shaken hands with thousands of people. One of those people is probably guilty of a crime. If we just happened to find a photo of him shaking hands with that criminal, is that newsworthy, if it was just a handshake at a campaign event where he was shaking everyone's hand?

No. To report such a thing, without any further evidence that he was especially friendly with that person, would push the reader to make a link that is not justified by the evidence.

Similarly, reporting that Obama has a .375% (that's 3/8ths of one percent!) difference between his mortgage, and the average mortgage of the same type, would push people to try to make a link that just isn't justified by the evidence.

This isn't the same thing as Chris Dodd, who we know got VIP treatment, but claims he was unaware that he was given special treatment. Dodd is probably telling the truth, in my opinion, but that's irrelevant to this case. The point is, we have no reason to suspect Obama got special treatment... we only know that he did better than the average person getting that kind of loan. Well, a lot of people will do better than the average, and a lot will do worse; that's how averages work.

And yet the Washington Post thinks it's news. Why?

I could deal with this a bit better if there weren't so many of these kinds of stories hitting the wire already. Obama knows a member of the Weathermen, and even serves on a committee with him! (Somehow, this makes him - not the committee - bad.) He had some dealings with Rezco. He stood by the man who baptized him, who performed his wedding, and baptized his children. Wouldn't you expect folks to start vetting these stories, to decide if there's any "there" there?

I guess there's a reason they call it "silly season".

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