Press critics often use the term "false balance" to describe the practice of presenting a matter of clear-cut fact as the subject of dispute. Some media outlets have made progress on avoiding this problem in their reporting recently.
The Wall Street Journal, however, published an egregious example of false balance in its May 21 edition. In a news article about Arizona's secretary of state asking Hawaii to "verify it has" President Obama's birth certificate, here's how the Journal described the birther conspiracy theory (emphasis added):
A spokesman for [Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett] said Sunday that his request was "simply done at the request of thousands of voters in Arizona."
A spokesman for the Obama campaign in Arizona said the secretary of state's "flirtation with a conspiracy theory that has been debunked time and time again will have no bearing on the election."
The "birther" movement contends Mr. Obama wasn't born in the U.S. or at least hasn't shown beyond a doubt that he was born in Hawaii, as Mr. Obama and the state say. The U.S. Constitution requires that to be eligible for the presidency, a person needs to be a "natural born" U.S. citizen. Hawaii on its website links to a long-form copy of Mr. Obama's birth certificate that he posted last year.
That's a ridiculous way to present this subject. Obama's birth certificate was made public four years ago, and as FactCheck.org noted, it "meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship." The Honolulu Advertiser published a contemporaneous announcement of Obama's birth.
None of this is in dispute. Except, apparently, in the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.