the media still matters

A lot of people have been patting the American press on the back for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. (Getting into New Orleans days and days ahead of FEMA and U.S. military apparently earns you some props.) But, it looks as though things might be taking a turn for the worse now that Karl Rove is back at the helm of the Bush spin machine, issuing talking points and leaking what he wants us to think the facts are. Here’s a clip from a letter sent by the head of Media Matters to the Washington Post concerning their compliance in spreading false information:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the recent use of a dishonest anonymous source by The Washington Post. As you have surely become aware, on September 4, the Post printed an article titled “Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting; White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials.” In the article, an anonymous “senior Bush official” sought to dismiss criticism of the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina by contending falsely that “[a]s of Saturday [September 3], [Louisiana Gov. Kathleen] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency.”

The Post was responsible enough to print a correction to the original article, pointing out that, in fact, Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, August 26 — before the hurricane made landfall — though the correction did not note that the error occurred because the Post relied on a “senior Bush official” who provided false information. Nonetheless, I believe this incident raises serious questions the Post needs to address….

In this case, however, the Post reporter’s reliance on an anonymous source defies reason. The statement made by the anonymous source was an assertion of fact that could have been easily refuted. Blanco’s declaration was widely reported at the time it was made, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune reprinted an August 27 letter from Blanco to President Bush in which she noted that she had declared the state of emergency. That the Post allowed itself to be the conduit by which “a senior Bush official” delivered a political attack — the accuracy of which could have been determined quickly and on the record — is unconscionable.

It is bad enough that the paper quoted an anonymous “source” spinning, but, in this case, the source was, put simply, lying. The Post’s correction is far from adequate. It would seem to us that if your newspaper discovers that an anonymous source blatantly lied to one of your reporters, the implied contract of the source-journalist relationship has been broken, and the source has forfeited his or her right to anonymity. Further, the fact that a “senior Bush official” is lying in an apparent effort to blunt criticism of the Bush administration seems extremely newsworthy — the sort of information that should be the topic of an article in your newspaper, not merely hinted at in a two-sentence correction.

Reporters might protest that a policy of “outing” dishonest sources would make others less likely to talk in the future. But are your readers’ interests best served by the reporter-source relationship as it exists now? If this incident is any indication, the answer seems to be no. The “senior Bush official” will suffer no consequences and will be free to spin, smear, and lie again in the pages of the Post or other news outlets — all without revealing his or her identity.

If you should go to the Media Matters site, be sure to also check out some of the other articles they’ve posted about members of the press following what seem to be scripted conservative talking points; like the piece they have on Fox News reporters Hume and Wilson repeating unfounded claims that Bush “pleaded” with the mayor of New Orleans to evacuate city, and the article on MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell and her laughably ludicrous on-air claim that Bush “thrives on being a crisis manager”.

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One Comment

  1. Dan from Austin
    Posted September 7, 2005 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    I have been pleased to see the media get a little sense of outrage over anything (Besides white girls in Aruba and blow jobs in the OVal office) but I am very worried that they are already losing steam. Images of families reunitig and pumps working are relacing the rats eating humans images of a few days ago. I am afraid that those rat bastards in charge will get away with this wiht minimal damage.

    I was thinking today that if Nixon was president today, he never would have resigned and LBJ would have run for re-election. This is what politicians have learned. If you admit no fault, you can’t be punished.

    I hope my cynicism is wrong.

    I’ve been proud o Austin, though. Thousands of evacuees are “honored guests” and our mayor and city officals are acting like real champs.

    My co-op raised over $2,000 for Katrina victims ($1,000 from members and $1,00 form the co-op)

    Texas is stepping up. Despite the fucking bushes…

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