The News Tip: The 2012 Race Is On!

Kids are headed back to school, Labor Day weekend upon us and that means that the political season will be getting into high gear — along with the media circus around it. NPR's David Folkenflik tells us how to get a handle on the way the media world is changing.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host: Sarah Palin's travels are yet another sign, like it or not, that the political season is upon us. And with it, of course, comes the media circus. We want to get a handle on what is happening in the media world, and take a closer look at how the media works - all in the midst of rapidly changing times.

We've asked NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik to be our guide. He's in our New York City bureau, and he's here to offer up what he calls the News Tip.

And David, what do you mean by the News Tip?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, the News Tips is a bunch of things. It could be media criticism; it's a moment to consider, first, principles and how the news business operates. I may point out an example of a recurring flaw, or a shoutout to somebody who's doing something particularly well or, you know, a howler.

Whatever it is, I want to be offering with you, a word to the wise, not just to the journalists. But often, it'll be to our listeners, to readers and viewers, consumers and citizen.

CORNISH:So David, News Tip No. 1?

FOLKENFLIK: News Tip No. 1 - this tip is for reporters. And the point is: Cover the facts, not just the opinion. Here's a perfect example. There's been a lot of coverage lately of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who's seeking to become the Republican nominee in next year's presidential race. He's been talking a fair amount about global warming, climate change. Here's what he said in a recent speech.

Governor RICK PERRY: I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.

FOLKENFLIK: So the speech, and others, drew a lot of coverage. And a lot of it has been framed as what he's doing politically. It's framed about how he's positioning himself against other Republican candidates, such as Mitt Romney.

What you're not hearing, the hole at the middle of that doughnut, is the question of what the facts are. I've seen stories in ABC, USA Today, the Boston Globe and many others, and they don't talk about that. But the facts are that the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that global warming is real and that much of it, at least, is manmade.

CORNISH: But this is such a political topic. I mean, I think for reporters it's difficult. Right? I mean, you basically want to avoid that part of the conversation.

FOLKENFLIK: Right, it's a lot easier to sort of sidestep and say, I can leave that to the science desk. But what you're really doing is outsourcing certain kinds of fundamental building blocks of reporting. After all, there are now these fact-checking outfits, like PolitiFact and FactCheck.org, that take on certain kinds of assertions by politicians and really unpack them, and say here's the evidence and here's what the facts show.

But in reality, most people reading stories aren't going to absorb whether or not certain assertions have validity to them, if people don't add the sentence or two that says what the scientific community actually believes.

CORNISH: So David, while we're talking about presidential politics, I want to talk about last week's dust-up between President Obama and House speaker John Boehner over when the president would give his speech to a joint meeting of Congress.

Now, this seems like total inside baseball, but it was a big story going into the holiday. And what's the News Tip here?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the News Tip is just because the politicians look small doesn't mean that the media won't look petulant for covering it, too. I mean this was, as just as you say, an enormous story for several days, and it's evaporated.

The White House basically struck a deal. They had wanted it on a Wednesday, which would have been, as it turns out, the same day as a Republican primary debate on cable. They'll have it on a Thursday, which it turns out, is the same day as the kickoff for the NFL regular season.

There's this Kabuki theater going on. But I mean, I think we've been reminded in recent days, a report showed that there had been zero jobs created functionally in the last month. There're a lot more serious issues on the plate that should probably be dominating the front pages. It makes for good signs of the political dysfunctional in Washington, but a front-page story? Really?

CORNISH: All right, OK. So lastly, you wanted to tip people off to a little story in the New York Post.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. And I like this tip a lot. It's the third News Tip of the day. That is: More reporting is always the best antidote to poor reporting. Here in New York City, the Post reported that congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who is also a candidate for president in the Republican Party, had been receiving financial support from Jewish donors who mistakenly thought because of her name, that she was Jewish.

CORNISH: Huh.

FOLKENFLIK: So Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple thought that was kind of dubious, as he told me when we spoke recently.

ERIK WEMPLE: I just wanted to give the New York Post a little hand in trying to confirm the story. So I started calling around to GOP Jewish donors and the Jewish donors on Michele Bachmann's own rolls, to see if I could confirm this notion that somehow, they thought that she was Jewish.

FOLKENFLIK: And by giving them a hand, you mean deeply mortify, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WEMPLE: Well, you know, I'm sticking with my talking points here. I'm part of the media brotherhood and when I see another outlet that's a little weak on sourcing, well, I just try to get in and row.

FOLKENFLIK: And, you know, to invoke a Yiddish term, what Eric Wemple got when trying to confirm that was bupkis. He couldn't find any Jewish donors...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FOLKENFLIK: ...who had felt that they had been misled somehow, that Michele Bachmann - who was an outspoken evangelical Christian - was anything but who she was. She's also a strong supporter of the state of Israel. A lot of Orthodox Jews felt simpatico with their views.

In this story, it seemed to me that he sort of mockingly did the original reporting it would have been nice for the Post to do itself.

CORNISH: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, thank you so much for talking with us.

FOLKENFLIK: Hey, you bet.

CORNISH: And if you want more of David's News Tips wisdom or want to send your own tips in, hit him up on Twitter @davidfolkenflik.

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