Thursday, February 15, 2007

Anonymous P.R. is B.S.

The Great Glenn Greenwald from his new home at writes about the hypocrisy of the media's violation of its own standards on granting anonymity. As I wrote about earlier, there is no more egregious example than Michael Gordon of the NYTimes.

There are two serious and obvious dangers generated by reports which rely upon anonymous government sources -- (1) it allows the government to disseminate false and misleading claims without any accountability, and more importantly, (2) it elevates rank government propaganda to the level of "investigative reporting" by implicitly bestowing it with the appearance of journalistic approval. From Watergate forward, readers instinctively view information "leaked" by anonymous sources as more credible than formal government statements, since it seems logical that anonymity would be used only when government sources are contradicting, or exposing the falsehood and corruption behind, official government claims.

For that reason, to report official government claims under the guise of anonymity -- as though those assertions are the by-product of some brave leak or vigilant journalistic investigation -- is really to mislead readers. But a substantial amount, if not the majority, of reports based on anonymous government sources is now nothing more than glorified government press releases which access-hungry reporters are (willingly) tricked into viewing as some sort of scoop and therefore passing it on willingly as though it is journalistically verified fact.

After all -- the thinking seems to be -- if one of their "secret sources" tells them something "in confidence" outside of official communication channels, they have scored a coup. And whatever they are told in this manner is newsworthy, even if -- as is so often the case -- what they are told is no different than what the administration is publicly claiming as its formal and official positions.


But that is rarely how anonymity is used now. With regard to the administration's position concerning Iran, anonymity for government sources has become completely routine, the preferred route used by the administration to disseminate its views and assertions to the public. Not only has anonymity become routine with regard to Iran, it is being used sloppily and in exactly the ways which the Times, for one, has assured its readers it would not be used


Why is it so hard for the media to understand that its role is not to simply echo what Bush officials tell it? That is what P.R. representatives and official spokespeople do. That is what Pravda did, and it is what other government-controlled media outlets do. The Bush administration does not need Michael Gordon or Barbara Starr to be a megaphone for its claims because it has the capability to voice its views and arguments without newspapers and television reporters reciting those claims as their own reporting.

The purpose of journalists is to doubt, investigate and scrutinize government claims, not mindlessly pass them along with the imprimatur of investigative reporting. That is so elemental to the role of the press that it is truly astonishing, and jarring, that it needs to be pointed out over and over. To be accurate, there has been, in isolated cases, some increased skepticism applied to the administration's Iran claims, but the same practices that predominated in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq are largely driving the media's breathless, gullible coverage of Iran.

The Times and the Post and other media outlets claim to recognize these principles in their policies regarding anonymous sourcing, but they are so flagrantly -- really intentionally -- disregarding those policies on a daily basis and it raises serious questions as to why that is. They themselves recognize that their negligent, gullible reporting helped the administration lead us into Iraq based on all sorts of false pretenses, and yet, here they are, doing exactly the same thing with Iran.


Blogger liberal journal man said...

The NYTimes has been uncomfortably centrist at times. I expected more from them. A lot more.

Oh well, step aside, and let the bloggers run the show for a while!

4:46 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

As someone said recently, we still need the MSM to provide some raw material but, increasingly, the useful analysis and commentary comes from the bloggers.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

It was Glenn Greenwald who said: "It is still true, and will be for the foreseeable future, that well-funded and well-connected national journalists are vital for fulfilling critical information-gathering roles (one needs Jim Risen and his NSA sources to learn about the warrantless surveillance program, and Dana Priest and her intelligence sources to learn about secret Eastern European prisons). Bloggers cannot supplant the national press in fulfilling those functions. Nonetheless, on story after story, some of the most insightful and valuable analysis occurs in the blogosphere, and that has been true for some time."

11:42 PM  

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