Circumstantial Journalism

myfox-twin-cities-exclusive_-coleman_s-renovation-project-coincides-with-lawsuitWhen a Republican CEO from another state alleges that a Minnesota Republican Senator has received $75,000 in laundered money from a supporter, that allegation is newsworthy. But when the alleged event happens to have occurred in the same time period when the Senator was investing in his home, that strikes me as irrelevant information.

The local Fox affiliate sees it differently. It did a breathless story last night noting that Coleman had been remodeling his home and had encountered a cost overrun at the same time as the cash was allegedly being funneled from Texas-based Deep Marine Technologies to Coleman. Fox’s follow-up story, and the hyped versions of it on places like Huffington Post, are unfair to Coleman. Pointing out the remodeling timing tells us nothing about whether the original allegations are true or false. It is good grist for the conspiracy mongers, but this circumstantial evidence sheds more heat than light.

breaking-news-and-opinion-on-the-huffington-postIn an even bigger stretch, Fox pointed out that the interior designer who worked on the remodeling project was, gasp, a friend and supporter of Coleman. The odd inclusion of this irrelevant fact inferred there was something unsavory about that. Am I missing something? Is there something illegal or unethical about people hiring friends and supporters for home projects? If so, lots of us are guilty of the same crime.

Holy hyperventilation. The Texas CEO’s allegations are very serious, and reporting that actually helps us understand whether the allegations are true or false is welcomed. But reporters should stick to evidence directly relevant to the allegations, instead of hyping the allegations with lighter than air motive theories. This didn’t pass the smell test.

– Loveland

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7 thoughts on “Circumstantial Journalism

  1. Air America was breathless about this today also. Of course, it echoes Ted “Papa Alaska” Stevens, but I like Joe pointing out that because things happen around the same time doesn’t automatically mean cause and effect.

    I’m even a little amazed at how quickly the hanging party is forming for the gov. of Illinois. He’s only been charged — not convicted yet. But we all seem to assume he’s guilty. He probably is, but I may be the only one in America saying the noose is being wrapped a little fast here.

  2. Ellen Mrja says:

    But it’s also a fallacy, that of the circumstantial ad hominem, to argue that because it is in Fox’s or the Huffington Post’s “interests” to report these claims, these claims are false.

    (And what does a “breathless” report sound like, anyway?)

  3. Paul says:

    Does it bother anyone — or would you consider it newsworthy — that our U.S. Senator, with a $169,300 annual salary, is “underwater” with his home mortgage — that is, his home is worth less than his mortgage debt?

  4. PM says:

    Stories like these always leave me wondering why anyone would want that job…..but I am afraid I know the answer–it is the aura (illusion?) of power and the asperation to be important, to be at the center of things.

    Paul, your point is a good one, but, no, it does not bother me. First, there are any number of people who are currently underwater in their homes or their various investments. Some were stupid, certainly, but others were no more than the victim of bad timing. And none of us (well, there are a few exceptions who made lots and lots of $$) saw this coming. Second, Norm is a guy of relatively modest means playing at a rich man’s game. There are tremendous pressures on him to “keep up” with the various Rockefellers and Daytons and Danforths (to cite only a few of the wealthy families who have inhabited or are inhabiting the US Senate) in the power swirl that is Washington DC.

    That is why i fear that Norm’s story is fitting all of the familiar turns and twists of a greek tragedy….hubris before his fall. Blaggo’s has similar parallels, too.

  5. Joe Loveland says:

    Bruce, Blaggo is up against taped conversations, excerpted transcripts of which have been made public. That’s pretty rock solid stuff, so I feel like I can have an informed opinion about him. On the other hand, Coleman is up against an accusation. That’s all. If there is more evidence than that, we don’t know about it yet. So I don’t feel like we have a right to condemn him yet.

    Ellen, I don’t think what Fox reported is false. But truth and relevance are two different things. If someone falsely accused me of robbing a bank and used as their only evidence the fact that I have a big pile of bills, I would find it outrageous to portray that true but irrelevant fact as a smoking gun.

    The thing I hate about the new, more “engaging” media is that they allow – no, demand – a rush to instant judgement. I’m not arguing that Coleman is either guilty or not guilty. I’m just arguing that we don’t know much, and we don’t know what we don’t know. So, let’s take a cleansing breath, and wait for courts and the FBI to dissect the McKim claims and Kazeminy counter-claims before we jump to conclusions.

    Just imagine if you were innocent and facing the lightly informed electronic lynch mob waving circumstantial evidence at you as proof of its verdict. It’s not the blogosphere at it’s best.

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