AirTalk for October 23, 2013

The thin line between balance and false equivalence

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How do we preserve and encourage public debates on important issues without perpetuating scientific falsehoods?

Earlier this month, editor of the Los Angeles Times’ letters section wrote an op-ed piece in which he explained why he’d decided to not publish letters from readers who say that there’s no scientific evidence supporting claims that humans have caused climate change.

"Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying 'there's no sign humans have caused climate change' is not stating an opinion, it's asserting a factual inaccuracy," Thornton wrote.

The ban has come under attack by critics, who charge that the Times is essentially shutting out an alternative voice in a valid debate. At AirTalk, the issue of false equivalence amid  the quest for balance is something that we also have to constantly deal with.

Using the topic of climate change as a point of department, we’ll explore these issues that all news gathering outlets have to wrestle with: how do we preserve and encourage public debates on important issues without perpetuating scientific falsehoods? The companion question to that is, who should decide?

Guest:

Patrick Pexton, Washington Post ombudsman from March 2011-March 2013 and former deputy editor for National Journal. He tweets at @PextonPB 

Katie Orenstein, Founder and CEO of The Op-Ed Project, a collective of journalists who believe a wide range of voices should be shaping the news


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