Ben Smith shows how it’s done

In covering the “Birthers” who deny that Obama is President, he decides to be objective rather than even-handed.

When one side of a political “controversy” is just making stuff up, a good journalist will refuse to play the “he said, she said” game and simply report the fact of the falsehoods. Ben Smith takes down the “Birthers,” the folks challenging Obama’s right to be President on the grounds that he’s not a “natural-born citizen.” [Note to Alan Keyes: if you’re going to push a crazy conspiracy theory, you should try to find a lawyer not named Kreep. Seriously.]

I only wish that other journalists treated other nonsense (global-warming denialism, creationism, supply-side economics, the assertion that comparative-effectiveness research in health care is a Stalinist plot, the claim that Baghdad is as safe as a major American city, the claim that the Obama administration plans to bring back the fairness doctrine, the claim that there is any substantial amount of fraudulent voting for which “ballot security” measures that incidentally tend to disenfranchise Democrats need to be taken, the claim that there is a “war on Christmas,”) in the same objective &#8212 as opposed to “even-handed” way.

But note Smith’s primary reasons for concluding that the Birthers are loony-tunes: not that there’s a document showing that their claims are false (that only comes in later in the story, though Smith does that quite well), but that they’re fringe-y, crazy-sounding people and that even the “mainstream” conservatives &#8212 who believe that all the evidence of anthropogenic global warming results from a conspiracy of scientists and tree-huggers led by Al Gore &#8212 don’t want to associate with them.

Fringe-y, crazy-sounding people sometimes believe true things that “respectable” people deny in order to keep their jobs. The Birthers aren’t wrong because they publish on World Net Daily; they’re wrong because there’s documentary evidence showing that they’re wrong.

That said, Smith’s essay in reporting-b.s.-as-b.s. is a refreshing change from the norm.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com