Sunday, July 17, 2005

Chill Until Cool

If Judith Miller’s time in the slammer will have a “chilling effect” on journalism, then that is good and sorely needed. Way too much use of unnamed sources masquerades as journalism today. Journalists who use unnamed sources deserve what they get -- be it Ms. Miller or Dan Rather

I am aware of the argument that the use of unnamed sources facilitates whistle blowers, which do provide a community service. But the practice of using information with no source also facilitates partisan spin, personal ambition, and attack and purging of rivals. Transparency in news provides the means to judge the information. How are we supposed to know if all the facts are not out there for us to see? Trust the journalists whose primary objective is print space, air time, a byline or anything to increase their income? Yea, right. Let’s see, do I go on page five with a story of just the facts or do I go front page, above the fold with a juicy bit of information the source of which I can not divulge. (And why the source can’t be named may actually be the better newsbyte.)

Miller should go to jail for printing all those lies before the Iraqi War about WMD’s in Iraq and mobile bio-labs, all from unnamed sources, and as it appears now, all spin and no news. The source and their reason for leaking is the actual news, but of course, like in the Valerie Plame case, she would probably go to jail rather than reveal her source. Judith Miller’s interest is being served more than journalism’s.

I have no problem with Novak’s story publishing the Valerie Plame’s name and position, which appeared in the editorial section of my newspaper. That is just the place for non-attributed facts -- or the columnist’s opinion since sources are not named. Editorials, Op-Ed or columnist in the editorial section is just the place for facts with no source -- either there or in the gossip section. Papers could have a political gossip section, but get it out of the hard news sections.

A good example of the abuse of unnamed sources is to compare the current investigation being run by Patrick Fitzgerald and the one run by Kenneth Starr against President Clinton. Fitzgerald’s investigation is noteworthy because of the lack of leaks. Not much has been heard from the investigation until just recently. While the Starr investigation leaked like a sieve.

And as it turns out, all the leaks from the Starr investigation were negative about Clinton. Nothing leaked that put Clinton in a good light. After the investigation was reported, it came out that Monica Lewinsky testified that she was not approached in any way by Clinton to try and influence her testimony. That’s a juicy bit of news that in a perfect world of leaks should have come out, but it did not come out until the final report. That’s why journalist should hardly ever use leaked information. They are being used. We are not being served

Journalist: Chill until cool and then serve.
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