The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Monday, September 05, 2005

Our Marvelous Media: Arianna Huffington Takes the Media to the Whipping Post

Or the woodshed if you prefer. She reacts to the NY Times story revealing tha Bush officials are scrambling to shift blame away.

Arianna Huffington: Memo to the Media: Stop Enabling the White House Blame Game | The Huffington Post:

"The unquestioning regurgitation of administration spin through the use of anonymous sources is the fault line of modern American journalism. You'd think that after all we've seen -- from the horrific reporting on WMD to Judy Miller and Plamegate (to say nothing of all the endless navel-gazing media panel discussions analyzing the issue) -- these guys would finally get a clue and stop making the Journalism 101 mistake of granting anonymity to administration sources using them to smear their opponents.

The Washington Post corrected its article. Now it should take the next step and reveal who the source of that provably false chunk of slime was. And Newsweek should do the same.

It's time for the media to get back to doing their job and stop being the principal weapon in Team Bush's damage control arsenal."

Huffington points to the typical smears emanating from the Bush White House and underscores that this is a typical tact for this crew when in political trouble -- smear someone else to distract attention. This time Newsweek and the WaPo played the unwilling (or is this willing? stupidity of this level is really quite profound) shills for the adminstration. An unnamed source said the source of the trouble lay with Louisiana Governor Blanco for failing to declare a state of emergency until Sept 2nd. In fact, one was declared August 26th, two days before the hurricane hit. Still WaPo ran the story citing an unnamed administration official. Newsweek didn't even bother to attribute the notion to anyone. They reported it as fact.

Here's some great Huffington commentary:

So here are a couple of questions: 1) Had everyone in the WaPo fact checking department gone out of town for the Labor Day weekend? I mean, c’mon, the announcement of a state of emergency isn’t exactly the kind of thing government officials tend to keep a secret. 2) Why were the Post reporters so willing to blindly accept the words of an administration official who obviously had a partisan agenda -- and to grant this official anonymity?

Weren’t they familiar with the Post’s policy on using anonymous sources, which states: “Sources often insist that we agree not to name them in the newspaper before they agree to talk with us. We must be reluctant to grant their wish. When we use an unnamed source, we are asking our readers to take an extra step to trust the credibility of the information we are providing. We must be certain in our own minds that the benefit to readers is worth the cost in credibility. …Nevertheless, granting anonymity to a source should not be done casually or automatically.” Here it was clearly done both casually and automatically.

The Post’s policy continues: “We prefer at least two sources for factual information in Post stories that depends on confidential informants, and those sources should be independent of each other.” Oops. They could have saved themselves a lot of grief if the second source they never got for this story had been a staffer for Gov. Blanco… or, if the price of a phone call was too much, the state of Louisiana website where the truth about the state of emergency declaration was a click away [pdf].

Especially since the Post instructs its reporters: “When sources have axes to grind, we should let our readers know what their interest is” and “We do not promise sources that we will refrain from additional reporting or efforts to verify the information they may give us”. You mean like checking to see if the line of bull they are feeding you is, y’know, a line of bull?

Laura Rozen over at War and Piece has the same story as does Josh Marshall. Bob Cesca has an excellent riposte to the Rovian line of reasoning.