Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Worst of the new habits in American Journalism

It is used often by both sides of the idealogical chasm, and it is dangerous to the business:

What?

Unnamed sources, that's what. In my morning browse of the New York Times, I was digging into a story of some significance. Specifically, the story discusses how the Taliban is on the rise again. I want to know about that. The trouble is, halfway through, I run across this troublesome paragraph:

"One international security official in Kandahar, who has several years of experience in Afghanistan and asked not to be named because of the nature of his information, said members of American and Canadian Special Forces units had told him that they were 'not winning against the Taliban.'" Full Story

The trouble with this is that there are few measurable data on the Taliban and I'm certain we don't have an accurate census, so much of the information we receive is based on perception. In this story, in the opening framework, the writer sets a tone for what follows. And she quotes an anonymous source summarizing anonymous soldiers. Hearsay evidence based on speculation (even informed speculation) is just unacceptable.

Good grief, didn't the Times learn anything from their recent reporting debacles? No. The proof is in black and white on my computer screen. How can I trust much else in the story.

Two things:

1) The story most definitely displays a bias.

2) The quote I mention does not aid the story, rather, it aids the bias of the story.

With that kind of reporting, it's difficult to draw a conclusion about the subject being reported, but easy to conclude that the reporter is seeking to support something. I know, I asked a well placed expert on news to speculate and he said that he's heard from reporters who talk to friends of reporters at the Times that the Times reporters are biased. Believe me?

Why not? It's not like my first name is Jason or my last name is Blair.

We really need to get back to the real reporting that every journalist claims to want. It's one thing to quote an anonymous source as a last resort on occassion. It's an entirely different thing to see anonymity held up as a standard. Don't believe me?

Count the anonymous sources you read in different places for the rest of this week. You'll see my point. I hope.

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