Covering a story driven by electronic media

radio mikeAs a print journalist, I often wince when important news stories are driven by the radio and television. Accusations fly quickly and responses are hastily arranged. Even in the age of the Internet, stories driven by print reporters develop more slowly. Facts tend to be treated with greater care when they are handled by individuals independent of the situation than by accusers and the accused. But television and radio reporters are part of the age in which we live and events unfold as they may.

KUSA 9 Denver managed to land an interview with the Rev. Ted Haggard and posted it in its full unedited glory here (requires Windows Media). It's a difficult interview to watch. No, it's not the poor camera work and lighting, it's the very apparent pain in Haggard's face, and I don't know what to say about his wife. But the interview broke the big news of the day, at least as of 6 p.m.

Haggard continues to deny some aspects of what he has been accused of, but he has since admitted to things he previously denied.

From the beginning this story has been driven by the local television and radio stations. Print reporters have been left scrambling. Even the announcement that Haggard's accuser, Michael Jones, failed a lie-detector test occurred as he performed it, live on the radio.

It is important to note that the accuracy of a lie-detector test, also known as a polygraph, has come into serious question lately, particularly in the government. Aldrich Ames, a former CIA counter-intelligence officer and analyst convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, beat several of them and a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report said that the polygraph has serious limitations.

I'm not saying that Michael Jones is telling the truth, or that he is lying. It's just important to realize that a polygraph is not a reliable way for a journalist to determine the truthfulness of a person's statements. While mentioning that Jones failed a polygraph, journalists should not allow that to determine who is telling the truth in this case.

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