Its time to examine what’s happened to journalism. The media has lost sight of what it means to report the truth. I heard Joe Trippi on Fresh Air yesterday, approved and he was saying that all of journalism today is “he said, cheapest he said”. In other words, if Bush says there’s a can of Coke on the table and Kerry says there isn’t, that’s what the papers will report. The reporter doesn’t say, I’m looking at the table myself and I see a can of Coke there. Reporters think they need to report “both sides” to be balanced, and that their responsibility stops there. No wonder the country is so divided, all that’s reported is spin, and we tend to believe the spin from the people we already believe.

A recent op ed by Neal Gabler in the L.A. Times argues that Fahrenheit 9/11 may have a favorable effect on this phenomenon. “What Moore and the film have done is take dead aim on one of the most sacred of journalistic shibboleths: the idea that journalists are supposed to be fair and balanced.” Balance, Gabler argues, can actually undermine what he calls fairness, and what I call truth. For example, news programs will put a Holocaust historian on air with a Holocaust denier, as if each viewpoint was equally credible. Gabler concludes:

In noisily forswearing balance for genuine fairness, Moore has shamed an American press corps that, for fear of offending conservatives, refused to report what Moore was now reporting – everything from the cursory interviews the FBI conducted with members of Osama bin Laden’s family in America before letting them leave to the eagerness of big business in exploiting Iraq to the astonishing fact that only one of the 535 members of Congress has a child serving in the military in Iraq.

I hope that journalists are paying attention. They need to worry a lot less about the appearance of fairness and a lot more about actually being fair: finding reporting the truth, even if its ugly, difficult and time consuming. After all, that’s why we lawyers are here, bothering to protect the First Amendment.