There's an emerging consensus that the press has done an awful job of covering the story of the Google engineer, James Damore, who was fired for writing a memo critical of the company's diversity efforts.
Here is David Brooks, writing in the August 12 New York Times: "The coverage of the memo has been atrocious....Various reporters and critics apparently decided that Damore opposes all things Enlightened People believe and therefore they don't have to afford him the basic standards of intellectual fairness."
Here is the Boston Globe's technology reporter, Hiawatha Bray, appearing on WBUR radio in Boston on August 10: "By the way, to me one of the most disgraceful things that has come out of this is the press coverage. It has been astonishingly inaccurate... The Washington Post on their Snapchat page actually said that he claimed that women were genetically incapable of becoming engineers. He wrote nothing of the sort."
WBUR's Asma Khalid replied, "I agree with you that in reading the memo and reading the coverage of the memo, there is this disparity."
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf wrote on August 8, "I cannot remember the last time so many outlets and observers mischaracterized so many aspects of a text everyone possessed."
Yet if there's a consensus that the coverage has been awful, there's sharp disagreement over whether that is typical or exceptional. Mr. Friedersdorf writes, "Most journalists strive to do their jobs with rigor and accuracy, just as most chefs try to put out good food, but occasionally send out a plate that is undercooked or over-salted, being fallible humans working under deadline pressure." That (in a classic error of leftism) primarily addresses the question of intent, but not results. To the extent that it does address results, it suggests that such errors are only "occasional."
An alternative view comes from Ian Miles Cheong, writing at the Daily Caller: "I also disagree with Friedersdorf's claim that the 'Google memo is an outlier.' Examples of the media's embrace of social justice ideology can be found in biased coverage of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the rise of the so-called 'alt-right,' the men's rights movement, GamerGate, and numerous, smaller controversies every day."
What do you think? Is the Google memo case exceptionally bad? Or is it normal, and just easier than usual to see because the full text of the memo is out there with which to compare the coverage?
My own view and personal experience is that the "atrocious," "astonishingly inaccurate" coverage of the Google memo story is, alas, pretty typical. The restaurant analogy is interesting. When you get a bad restaurant meal, there are plenty of accountability mechanisms. You can write a bad review at Yelp or Zagat. You can complain. You can choose not to return to that restaurant, or to order something different the next time. If enough people write bad reviews or choose not to return, eventually the restaurant owner may fire the chef or the restaurant may go out of business and close. The accountability mechanisms for journalists are much hazier. In fact, the "astonishingly inaccurate" versions of the story, because they stoke more outrage, may even generate more web traffic, and thus more revenue, for publishers than the accurate ones do. That phenomenon is visible often on Twitter, when an inaccurate but sensational tweet may get tens of thousands of retweets, while a follow-up tweet correcting the inaccuracy may get only a few dozen retweets. It's almost as if there are financial incentives to publish "fake news."