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Liberty Belle - August 12 2005

Liberty Belle - August 12 2005

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Journalists have a duty to try and get their facts right. Having said that, I know that sometimes we do get it wrong. There's actually nothing worse than spending weeks over a feature story, or hours over a news story, which is highly critical of someone or something, then have a mistake in it.

The audience or the readers then pounce with exclamations like, "If she can't even get that right, how can we take the rest of her story seriously!" And fair enough. It's happened to me before, and even now I get hot, bothered, and cringe when I think about it.

Having said that, a journalist should at least try to get it right. What particularly annoys me, however, is a trend in modern journalism to blithely accept as factual what another colleague has written. So a fallacy gets repeated, and repeated, and an urban myth is born.

So I'm here to slay a myth about me. It's the "she got more headlines for her personal life than for her politics" myth. Or the variation: "romance raised her profile, nothing else did." Started by Ian Templeton in the Press Gallery, it was picked up and repeated, without question, by North & South magazine in November last year. Then last Saturday, on National Radio’s 'This Week in Politics', Julian Robins used the phrase again to introduce an excerpt of my valedictory speech - "ACT MP Deborah Coddington, who got more publicity for her personal life than her politics, had this to say.."

Was this true? I decided to check. Using our massive Parliamentary Library search engine, 'Newztext Plus', self-described as a 'full text of New Zealand newspapers, magazines and radio wires' I searched 'Deborah Coddington' back to June 2002 when I stood for Parliament. Erring on the side of caution, I classified as personal any article which even so much as mentioned anything personal about me, even if it also contained political policies.

And the result? A total of 871 stories, 782 of which were political and 89 of which were personal. It took me just under one hour - not onerous in terms of doing your homework, I would have thought. Certainly not arduous enough to justify the sloppy, lazy journalism emanating from those who can't be bothered to check something before they repeat it.

I'll have to remember these words, won't I, after September 17, and make sure I don't get it wrong.

Yours in liberty,

Deborah Coddington


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