Media

He Said, She Said

| Wed Dec. 29, 2010 1:21 PM EST

David Sessions reads a New York Times piece about end-of-life consultations, which will be funded by Medicare starting on January 1, and notes that the only dissenting view in the article comes from Elizabeth Wickham, a conservative activist with no credentials to speak of, no real influence within the conservative movement, and a history of extremism. He's unimpressed:

Here is another unfortunate instance of the Times throwing in a social conservative to maintain “balance.” Look through the paper’s archives and you’re sure to find dozens of iterations of this formula, on issues ranging from abortion to women’s health to repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After the story lays out the expert or scientific consensus and the generally agreed-upon facts, a random social conservative — often one without any credentials on the issue or with a trail of insane statements to their name — will be trotted out to dispute them.

....My point here is not, of course, that dissenting or conservative viewpoints should be banned from the New York Times. In fact, this sort of drive-by citation of ideologues does a disservice both to conservatives when they actually have legitimate points and to readers who want to consider alternate perspectives. Wickham’s quote was transparently included just to establish “balance,” and readers are left without any clear idea of whether there is reason to doubt the consensus view. If there is serious disagreement, the reporter should find a credible source and thoroughly explain his or her position. If a prominent Republican or conservative leader vowed to fight the measure, then make note of it. But if there is no serious opposition, or if the serious opposition is dealing in paranoid cant, then I’d love to read a newspaper with the balls to say so.

I suppose there's a liberal version of this too, and you can certainly make an argument that news organizations shouldn't restrict themselves solely to comments from major politicians and big national interest groups. Still, Sessions has a point. Is there really any serious opposition to end-of-life counseling? Does anyone in Congress plan to do something about this? Does Elizabeth Wickham speak for much of anyone, or is she the activist equivalent of digging up a blog comment somewhere because you can't actually find anyone more important to provide the comment you're looking for? That would be good to know.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.