Partisan "news" outlets will not save local journalism

The loss of objectivity cannot be reclaimed:

The North Shore Leader wrote in September, when few others were covering Santos, about his “inexplicable rise” in reported net worth, from essentially nothing in 2020 to as much as $11 million two years later.

The story noted other oddities about the self-described gay Trump supporter with Jewish heritage, who would go on to flip New York’s 3rd Congressional District from blue to red, and is now under investigation by authorities for misrepresenting his background to voters.

Theoretically speaking, such coverage within the District itself, should have provided voters the information they need to make a sound decision. But there's a problem: the paper in question has a solidly conservative bent, which means two things: Their "loyal" readership leans so heavily Republican that those revelations fell on deaf ears, and that obvious lack of objectivity made it much less likely their reporting would attract the attention of state-level (or national) news outlets that would have reached all the voters in the District. Here's more on what their loyal readers chose to ignore:

“Interestingly, Santos shows no U.S. real property in his financial disclosure, although he has repeatedly claimed to own ‘a mansion in Oyster Bay Cove’ on Tiffany Road and ‘a mansion in the Hamptons’ on Dune Road,” managing editor Maureen Daly wrote in the Leader. “For a man of such alleged wealth, campaign records show that Santos and his husband live in a rented apartment, in an attached rowhouse in Queens.”

The Leader reluctantly endorsed Santos’s Democratic opponent the next month. “This newspaper would like to endorse a Republican,” it wrote, but Santos “is so bizarre, unprincipled and sketchy that we cannot,” adding, “He boasts like an insecure child — but he’s most likely just a fabulist — a fake.”

It was the stuff national headlines are supposed to be built on: A hyperlocal outlet like the Leader does the legwork, regional papers verify and amplify the story, and before long an emerging political scandal is being broadcast coast to coast.

But that system, which has atrophied for decades amid the destruction of news economies, appears to have failed completely this time.

Despite a well-heeled and well-connected readership — the Leader’s publisher says it counts among its subscribers Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jesse Watters and several senior people at Newsday, a once-mighty Long Island-based tabloid that has won 19 Pulitzers — no one followed its story before Election Day.

Bolding mine, because that is an assumption. It's entirely possible (likely?) that Hannity and others were aware of this story, but ignored it in their zest to flip the U.S. House.

I'm sure for many reading this, the gut reaction is, "Big surprise, Republican-leaning media platform fails to stop another liar." But that's not why I'm writing this.

That formula works both ways. A bent in either direction (Conservative or Liberal) will automatically result in the same problem: a core readership of those who have already decided, and an alienation of those who want a genuinely objective assessment of current events. Please forgive me for using a golf analogy, and try not to envision Trump with his shit-stained white golf pants:

My dad (a teaching golf professional as well as an accomplished engineer in the space program) spent considerable time and effort breaking many of my bad golf habits. "Topping" was one of the biggies, and it had to do with "watching the ball," something that had been drilled into me from little league baseball. The problem in golf (and some other sports) is, the body movement to follow the ball's trajectory with your eyes actually starts before you have made contact with it. Your head begins to rise, along with your upper body, and the club strikes the top of the ball instead of dead center. So my dad told me to keep my head down until I saw where the tee went or the divot my iron caused in the turf. And that worked, but I had to remember it each time, because my natural inclination was to follow that little white ball to see where it was going.

Reporting the news is the same way. It's literally impossible to not have preconceived notions of where a story might lead, and those notions can help you follow threads of information. But they can also mislead you, cause you to miss relevant details that could have exposed the truth.

You may find it ironic that a progressive blogger would preach such an approach; much of what we do here is decidedly partisan. But here's the thing: We can't properly analyze a situation or policy in the absence of genuinely objective information. The root must be strong or the tree will topple. I'm not talking about both-siderism, which is an unfortunate phenomena of mainstream media trying to prop up perceived objectivity in a journalistic landscape that is rapidly deteriorating. That phenomena is also driven by economics; an effort to not alienate paying subscribers. In other words, we (as news consumers) may be creating the very thing that we abhor, a shallow, low-information media landscape.

My New Years resolution (and recommendation for readers) is to be more critical of your news sourcing, use better discretion. And that will mean not always being happy with what you read. Facts are not always convenient. They disturb. They challenge.

And we evolve.



A failure of opposition research

For me, the George Santos story is about a failure in opposition research.

His lies were so basic - on his business, education, and even his family background - that some simple digging in Google, a few phone calls, and a check in some public records would have turned up much of it in a few hours. One of his lies - his mother dying in 9/11 - could have been caught just scrolling through his Twitter feed and seeing one tweet making the claim and then another when his mother really passed away.

This makes me wonder, with the track record of the NCDP the past few years, whether campaigns and the Democratic party are even doing this kind of basic research on Republican candidates or just taking what they say about themselves and their record as fact without really questioning anything.

You can read the full opposition research report on Santos prepared by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The only one of his lies they caught were irregularities with one of his non-profits. For his professional work, the report just simply repeated what Santos was stating on his campaign website and similar materials without digging any further.

Opposition research isn't difficult. There's a basic guide by Larry Zilliox that outlines the whole process.

How many GOP candidates with issues similar to Santos got elected to the NC legislature in recent elections?

Too many

They’re all liars. It’s just a matter of degree.