Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What happened to the 'truth test'?

I recently asked here ( whether KSL reporter Richard Piatt's blatant errors in his "true-or-false" voucher report were intentional, since Parents for Choice in Education had taken the report to use in its mail to voters. PCE's flyer used Mr. Piatt's comments and his graphics, which are pretty dramatic. Unfortunately, several bloggers have shown that they're pretty wrong, too.

Last night, someone calling himself "Rich's buddy" left a comment on my blog that read,

Piatt isn't a voucher hack. He simply made a mistake.

I bet even he would admit it to friends, in fact, he did.

I wrote a response to that note:

To Rich's buddy,

I appreciate very much that Mr. Piatt told his friend that he made a mistake. I don't doubt what you say, and I appreciate that you said it to me.

But Mr. Piatt, whom I don't know, is a public figure and, moreover, a journalist, which means his job is to inform the public on matters in their interest. At the moment, there are only three items in the public record reflecting Mr. Piatt's journalism on the voucher issue. One is the KSL report, whose errors I described in some detail; the second is his published comment to Bill Keshlear, stating clearly and unequivocally that Mr. Piatt stands by his original report; and the third is the mail from Parents for Choice in Education, repeating in black-and-white what Mr. Piatt said on KSL, and using the graphics that Mr. Piatt used in his report.

We now have fewer than six days before we will go to the polls to make a decision, based on the best information provided to us, on the voucher matter. If Mr. Piatt made a mistake and was willing to express that to his friends, I hope in the interest of public awareness and professionalism that he would make that known, and specifically to correct the public record on this question.

Now, it isn't just bloggers bringing attention to the problem of this report's credibility, and KSL itself is acknowledging its discomfort about the mess -- although I notice that no one yet has taken a step to say that there were fundamental errors in the report. Rather, they're adopting a slippery path, just disavowing any part in the production of PCE's flyer here ( and here (, and hoping that the next few days go by quickly.

Of course, it's still true that KSL editorialized against Referendum 1. But Mr. Piatt's contribution to the public record, on behalf of his television station, is what's in the public record, and that's what sits on paper in black-and-white on kitchen tables across the Wasatch Front.

Which is more important, letting errors be sold as truth, or standing up and correcting the public record?

It looks like allowing errors to be sold as truth -- or pretending that correcting the public record isn't really an option -- is more important to KSL News Director Con Psarras, quoted in Paul Rolly's column today here (

Now, it is KSL's turn to take umbrage at the voucher advocates' attempts to turn the media giant into a pro-voucher toady.

The television station put a statement on its Web site taking issue with the voucher advocates' flier that implies "Eyewitness News" produced, or helped to produce, the voucher ad.

The flier points to a KSL story that analyzed ads being aired by both sides of the voucher debate. Reporter Richard Piatt questioned some points in the anti-voucher ads, and that's what the pro-voucher folks highlighted in their own fliers and ads "thanking" KSL for its truth in advertising test.

KSL News Director Con Psarras said the three-minute story was a complex analysis and to simply boil it down to a "true" versus "false" scenario is misleading.

"It's ironic that we do a 'truth test,' the intent being to distinguish between spin and actual fact, and the people who like what we did in that story take our material and spin it out of context," Psarras said on KSL's Web site.

KSL's news department takes no stand for or against vouchers, Psarras said.

No, it just aired an erroneous report that's now the public record and that misleads voters, and it apparently doesn't intend to correct that record. You can't really count that as taking a stand, can you?

Or can you? Let me check that PCE flyer again; it's on the kitchen table with KSL's work all over it.

1 comment:

rmwarnick said...

Con Psarras is right, to simply boil it down to a "true" versus "false" scenario is misleading.

But that's exactly what Richard Piatt did in his report! I expected him to say both sides were fudging their facts, the way journalists usually do (mistaking balance for objectivity). No, he had to declare the pro-voucher ads as TRUE and the anti-voucher ads as FALSE.

KSL's report was propaganda, not journalism.