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ScienceDaily (Mar. 8, 2011) — Passive news reporting that doesn't attempt to resolve factual disputes in politics may have detrimental effects on readers, new research suggests.
The study found that people are more likely to doubt their own ability to determine the truth in politics after reading an article that simply lists competing claims without offering any idea of which side is right.
Th are consequences to journalism that just reports what each side says with no fact checking," said Raymond Pingree, author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University.
"It makes readers feel like they can't figure out what the truth is. And I would speculate that this attitude may lead people to tune out politics entirely, or to be more accepting of dishonesty by politicians."
While some disputes in politics involve subjective issues where there is no right or wrong answers, some involve factual issues that could be checked by reporters if they had the time and the desire, Pingree said.
"Choosing among government policies is simply not like choosing among flavors of ice cream. Policy questions quite frequently center on facts, and political disputes can and often do hinge on these facts, not only on subjective matters," he said.
The issue of "he said/she said" journalism is especially critical today because many media outlets are understaffed and news cycles are faster than ever, meaning that reporters often have less time to check facts, he said.
Pingree emphasized that he is not being critical of all journalists. Many still do a good job of resolving factual disputes when they can.
"But I think it is clear that this happens less than it used to. As a result, there may be people out there who feel like there is no such thing as a political fact, or at least that they can't figure out what it is," he said.
"That may make it easier for people to just quit following politics at all, or to accept dishonesty in politicians."