One of the most frustrating aspects of the fight against "he said," "she said" journalism is the inconsistency within news outlets about how they treat misleading or unsupported factual claims.
For instance, The New York Times just published another article directly identifying Betsy McCaughey as a proponent of health care misinformation (see also my post on the first Times piece). Note the laudable lack of hedging or artificial balance in this passage:
[McCaughey] incorrectly stated in July that a Democratic bill in the House would “absolutely require” counseling sessions for Medicare recipients “that will tell them how to end their life sooner,” drawing a “Pants on Fire” rating from the PolitiFact fact-checking Web site; her false assertion that the presidential health adviser Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel believed “medical care should be reserved for the nondisabled” helped inspire the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s discredited warning about “death panels’ ” deciding who is “worthy of health care.”
Two days later, however, the Times ran a story on national service programs that included this passage in which the absurd charges of Americorps critics are treated with kid gloves:
Critics say that these bipartisan programs [Americorps and other national service programs] provide little more than busywork for volunteers; some even see dark forces at play. Michelle Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, cautioned that they might morph into mandatory “re-education camps,” while the conservative commentator Glenn Beck recited the AmeriCorps pledge (“I will get things done for America,” it begins) on television while wearing lederhosen — to make either a strained analogy to National Socialism or a daring fashion statement.
Bachmann's claim is reported without comment, and the only substantive statement on Beck's comparison to the Nazis is a description of it as "a strained analogy." (Strained! The Nazis!) It's not clear why the reporter felt like the story had to be balanced by this nonsense (surely there are more serious critics of Americorps), but if they are to be included, the Times has some duty to assess the likelihood of the scenarios that Bachmann and Beck are envisioning.
At a more fundamental level, the media needs to draw the line and stop reporting on the paranoid fringe. Is the Times going to balance every news story on the Obama administration with a paragraph saying Bachmann and Beck say that the White House is leading us toward socialism, fascism, etc.? These are not serious people and their claims do not deserve coverage.