The Postmodern Consequences of "He Said, She Said" Journalism

By Chris Mooney | March 11, 2011 8:25 am

Way back in 2003/2004, I wrote a kind of classic piece in Columbia Journalism Review about the problems with “he said, she said, we’re clueless” coverage of scientific topics. You can read it here.

There was much evidence back then that this was a problem, but we certainly lacked this–a new study showing that “he said, she said” coverage leaves readers less certain that they are able to discern the truth about politics. In other words, such “passive” journalism contributes to a postmodern state of affairs in which nobody thinks they can pin down what reality actually is. It is therefore damaging and detrimental to our efforts to achieve consensus in contested areas, and sound policy solutions.

I have much more to say about this at DeSmogBlog:

The study, conducted by The Ohio State University communications professor Raymond Pingree, did not focus on climate change but rather the U.S. healthcare debate—but the same lesson would seem to apply. Study subjects were asked to read fake news stories in which two disputes about the contents of a healthcare bill were either left unresolved, or factually adjudicated. In other words, sometimes the subjects were exposed to “he said, she said” coverage, and sometimes they were exposed to a breed of journalism that unflinchingly examines where the truth lies.

Then the study subjects answered survey questions about their confidence in whether it was possible to discern the truth in politics. For instance, they were asked how much they agreed that “If I wanted to, I could figure out the facts behind most political disputes.” What kind of article they’d read had a significant effect: Those who’d read the “passive” story were more, er, postmodern in outlook. They were less sure they could discern the truth (if it existed).

You can read the study here; and continue reading my DeSmogBlog analysis here.


Comments (1)

  1. Chris Mooney

    I apologize…some comments were lost in our spam filter. we’re working on the problem.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


See More

Collapse bottom bar