The latest blunder from Fox News regarding a politician’s party affiliation is being noted on liberal blogs. The cable network identified Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as a Democrat. He’s a Republican. [UPDATE: In spring 2009, he switched parties.]
Daily Kos doubts whether this string of errors by the “nutwork” is just a coincidence. Talking Points Memo is a bit more forgiving, with Josh Marshall admitting he’s made that sort of mistake from time to time. Yet he still wonders how Fox manages to mangle it in one ideological direction.
Similar objections come when a story omits party affiliation — especially when the news is unflattering to the person and, therefore, to the person’s political party. The suspicious reader sees that omission as evidence of a coverup. (Here’s an example.) This problem is bipartisan, as seen here in the brief about Coy Privette, a former lawmaker in North Carolina. Editors have tried to make that point, but readers remain skeptical.
As Marshall mentioned at TPM, everyone makes mistakes or fails to include a detail that we take for granted. Here’s what copy editors can do:
- Doublecheck party affiliations in every story they edit.
- Ensure that party affiliations are included in stories about politicians accused of some sort of malfeasance.
- If one politician in a story is identified by party, make sure they all are. Be evenhanded.
It’s quick and easy to add “Democrat” or “Republican” to most stories. Those words don’t take up much space and rarely interrupt the flow of a sentence — except perhaps in the case of Sen. Joe Lieberman.