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29.4.05

In Defense Of CNN

Ordinarily I'd be the last person to defend TV news, but I think some people are getting a little too worked up over the CNN segment ridiculed on the Daily Show (click on "Gaywatch") the other night. The topic was Texas' deeply immoral and anti-child law barring homosexuals from being foster parents. The anti-child guest cited a study that found that children raised by same-sex couples were more likely to be abused. Jon Stewart interjected with a rebuttal, pointing out that the study in question is scientifically worthless. Then he lambasted the CNN anchors for not making a similar rebuttal.

I wonder, though -- did Stewart know that information about the study off the top of his head? I'm pretty confident that he (or the show's writers) saw the CNN clip, thought "that study doesn't sound right," and went and looked it up before their show aired. CNN didn't have time for that, as the segment was being broadcast live. The best they can do is let the pro-child expert provide a rebuttal. Note that the pro-child speaker -- who we presume has dedicated more time to research on this issue -- also does not point out the specific problems with the anti-child speaker's study. He just offers some generalities about unspecified research and experts he's seen that have not supported the anti-child claim.

The he said-she said style is not simply a matter of the personal failings of TV reporters (though they've certainly embraced it). It's a structural effect of doing live TV news. What this really points out is the need for programs like the Daily Show that can take some time to double-check and review the first-cut news.

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