Accuracy in Media

Truth is, as they say, the first casualty in war — which is why Vice should have done more reporting rather than repeating a press release from the Ukrainian government.

It’s entirely true that Russian shelling damaged something “nuclear,” as the piece said.

This becomes rather more important when we use the word “nuclear” of course. Not just because of the worries about something nuclear going wrong, but because of those long-standing rules that if someone “goes nuclear” then so does everyone else.

What actually happened was that the Russians shelled an academic institute in Kharkiv. We do not say this is good, clearly it is bad. Further, this institute contained something “nuclear”. But what nuclear? The Ukrainian government tells us, in their headline, that it’s a “Neutron Source,” which sounds bad.

Journalism requires explaining what this is, not a mere repetition of the statement. As it happens, what a “Neutron Source” is is the safe way of producing the radioactive isotopes that are used in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The old way meant using a small reactor – one that used the same type of uranium used to make bombs – and this was thought to be a bad idea. Having these spread around the world. So, the U.S. – and it is largely the U.S. that has done this – ran a campaign to replace these dangerous reactors with safer ways to gain those same medicines. The one in Kharkiv is one of the new, safe ones. No, really.

Yes, we do know, there’s a war on. But this is exactly when journalism, reporting, has to be exact. Not a repetition of claims from either side.

Vice is a significant part of the modern media landscape. The TV channel reaches 60 million households via cable. There’s a significant YouTube and video presence, the site itself gains some 26 million visits a month. Vice actually matters.

This is why it matters that governmental statements during a war are examined, even explained, rather than just repeated. Yes, something “nuclear” got hit. But the actual story here is that the U.S. government has been spending money by the bucketload these past few decades to make these “nuclear” things not dangerous if they do get hit. Given that we’re paying the bills, perhaps worth pointing out?

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