The Daily Signal, The Heritage Foundation’s online “news” website, debuted Tuesday, offering up vagaries and unverifiable assertions aplenty, but too few empirical facts and little in the way of attribution. Its first video was a publicist’s dream, a puff piece that no serious news organization would air.
What appears in The Daily Signal matters because it is assured a large audience eager for reinforcement of deeply embedded views, but no real evidence that would challenge or even bring into question the factual basis of those views.
Reader comments on the Signal’s first investigative piece – the only solid piece of fact-based journalism it published Tuesday – showed just how eager Signal readers are to read confirmation of their biases into pieces and to ignore inconvenient facts, especially subtly presented truths that run contrary to the Heritage Foundation’s well-established perspectives.
Heritage opened its doors in 1973 and has since worked to ensure business dominance of American politics and government. It likes to describe itself as the true champion of the poor in America. A realistic appraisal of its policies shows that it favors protecting existing wealth against the creative destruction by which the existing economic structure is constantly under siege from new wealth seekers.
America needs fact-based, insightful and aggressive journalism — both opinion and fact — from every point on the spectrum. But sadly, much of what we get from what mainstream news organizations mislabel “conservative” is radical rhetoric that far too often has little basis in fact or even reality.
Progressives and liberals in particular should encourage, and read, quality journalism from the right because it will help weed out flabby, half-baked ideas by everyone not in accord with the Koch brothers and Fox News chief Roger Ailes. Without rigorous journalism from the far right, the whole country suffers a paucity of informing debate.
The framers used empiricism and reason to make their case for our Constitution and were critical of naked assertion, vague accusations and failure to test hypothesis with verifiable facts.
The breathtaking distortions and even lies by some of our best-known opinion journalists who self-identify as conservatives drew my scrutiny in National Memo columns this year, which you can read here, here, here and here.
The Signal surely cannot quarrel with my call for fact-based news and opinion, as its website says, “We are committed to news coverage that is accurate, fair and trustworthy. As we surveyed the media landscape, it became clear to us that the need for honest, thorough, responsible reporting has never been more critical. That’s a challenge in today’s fast-moving world. And it’s a challenge we’re willing to accept.”
The website then proclaims:
We are dedicated to developing a news outlet that cuts straight to the heart of key political and policy arguments – not spin reported as news. The Daily Signal is supported by the resources and intellectual firepower of The Heritage Foundation – a dedicated team of experienced journalists to cover the news and more than 100 policy experts who can quickly help put issues in perspective. We believe this combination of news, commentary and policy analysis will establish The Daily Signal as a trusted source on America’s most important issues.
We believe that high-quality, credible news reporting on political and policy issues is of paramount importance to an informed and free society. This is a reflection of that Jeffersonian notion that the greatest defense of liberty is an informed citizenry.
So, let’s take a look first at the Signal’s featured first-day video, an interview with Sharyl Attkisson, a former reporter and anchor for CBS, CNN and PBS. The headline is hyped, describing an interview with the Signal’s own correspondent as “exclusive.”
The headline also promises a report on “Journalism’s Very Dangerous Trend” but presents zero verifiable evidence of anything dangerous or even of any trend.
After Attkisson quit CBS, she told Bill O’Reilly in April that her Benghazi, Obamacare and “Fast and Furious” gun stories did not make the air because senior producers lost interest. O’Reilly, an entertainer possessed of masterfully honed commercial instincts, skillfully conflated that into an implication of foul motives at CBS without a shred of empirical evidence that anyone could verify. Classic O’Reilly.
At The Daily Signal, producer Kelsey Harkness tossed Attkisson softballs, even puffballs. As edited, the video shows zero effort to get beyond rhetoric to empirical evidence — names, dates, specific stories, etc. Naked assertion without verifiable specifics is not reporting, it is propaganda, an irony evidently lost on the Signal’s editors.
Harkness promises two more installments, so perhaps we will see some actual reporting by her in the days ahead. Hopefully she will improve with experience, but if not, she can look forward to a superb career as a flack, as reporters call publicists.
The Daily Signal let Attkisson mix and conflate issues in a way no serious and experienced journalist would let pass. Her vague assertions about CBS newsroom managers, as edited, flowed seamlessly into a different issue — non-journalists who use social media to confuse the public.