Fact from fiction

As I’ve been wrapping up the reporting on this Amendment 3 story, I’ve found it harder and harder to do what I wanted to avoid. That is the all-too-easy habit of relying on a “He said this/the other said that” kind of mentality. I think too often some papers and especially some of the major broadcast stations end up simply replaying what political candidates say. There isn’t really any fact checking behind these claims political candidates make and it results in rhetoric being tossed back and forth.

I’ve dealt with a little of this in covering Amendment 3. When I started interviewing sources that had strong interests in the outcome of Amendment 3, I started to see two polarizing sides. The attorneys are very against the amendment while organizations such as Better Courts for Missouri and various senators who have sponsored similar legislation, advocate strongly for the amendment. I can’t tell you how many quotes I have that boil down to accusations against the issue’s opposing viewpoint. But should I include these in the story? And how do I determine what they’re telling me really is true?

Some proponents tell me the amendment will provide more accountability to the judicial selection committee, while the other side replies with something along the lines of how it would politicize the selection process and allow for campaign contributions to effect selection decisions. So I could easily just place these quotes back-to-back in a story, right? That’s what the struggle is with political reporting, because they are quotes. But sometimes us journalists can get too carried away with quotes. As a result, I’ve been trying to find less accusatory quote to include while I paraphrase most of these one-sided quotes. I hope paraphrasing these will help cut down on the rhetoric and the conservative vs. liberal accusatory statements.

I’ve also received quite a bit of literature on the subject from each side with all sorts of data. But here I have to be very careful again. Data, with a certain context, can be manipulated to say almost anything you want. So while one report might say 46% of judges polled felt like their judgement would be effected by campaign contributions, this also means there was a majority that didn’t feel this way. So how do I share this information? These are just a few of the problems I’ve come across as I try and present as fair and balanced of a story as possible.

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