Forbes invents new ways to make outlets look trustworthy

April 28, 2023

By Tim Worstall

Forbes published a list this week of media outlets that it claims we can trust.

Unfortunately, Forbes’ meaning of “trust” is who obeys all the rules about who they’ve asked whether something is true.

Not, that is the thing we’re interested in, whether that something is actually true or not. This is the grand problem with so much American journalism – are they obeying the rules about how they say something, rather than whether the thing they say is objectively true. This is why we see so much “according to experts then…” which is really just code for “this person said this.” It’s not a fact simply because a political activist said it, after all. But that’s the standard in use here.

No, really: “Does the publication have its own code of ethics? Or does it subscribe to and endorse the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics?” That code of ethics includes such lines as “Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless,” which isn’t a particularly objective striving after the facts.

This is yet another example of the thing we keep complaining about. That the media keeps pushing that rule-making back into the background. What TikTok will allow to be said about climate change is now subject to UN approval of “the science.” The WHO has a guide to journalists on how they should report about alcohol (one that’s wildly wrong, by the way). But when challenged any journalist could and often would say, “but that’s the truth!” because it is that official document.

That journalistic code of ethics means that the list of “reliable” sources contains those that mean well, or fight for the right side, rather than those who actually do report just those facts. The top three are the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post (all three of which this writer has written for). But the bias in them is in what gets selected for publication, not how a piece published has been written or sourced. What gets into the WSJ editorial pages (which even the WSJ journalists agree is biased, even if in a possibly good way) isn’t even worth sending as an idea to either of the other two. Which is, as we say, where the bias of the publications comes from. What to write about, from what point of view, rather than actually lying about something that is being written about.

The other two that round up the top 5, the BBC and the Economist – yes, been there too. They suffer from exactly the same problem. The bias can indeed be in how a piece is written. But from that personal experience (I was once uninvited from a BBC radio show for not being extreme enough for example) it is the story selection that provides the bias of such outlets.

The concentration on how a story is told and how facts are checked, isn’t the point at all. Even when we include that the fact-checking is now outsourced to governmental organizations on things like climate change, vaccines, and masking and, yes, that favorite topic of journalists, booze. What is the important point is the decision on what to report. Which is precisely and exactly where these establishment outlets fall down.

It’s also exactly why the Founding Fathers were right about no laws to limit that free press. They understood, even if modern journalists don’t, that what people write about matters most, For only if all subjects are ripe for discussion are we going to have that free press that so informs.

It may be true that censorship by editorial decisions isn’t a First Amendment violation but that’s still missing the point. Only if everything does get discussed are we going to be able to work out what’s really going on. With the emphasis on us – us out here, we voters, we the people – rather than what the elite think we should be allowed to think or talk about.

Oh, yes, just to complete this, I’ve written for Forbes too. Take it from someone who really has been there.


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