Friday, November 11, 2005

Check your sources!

The information is only as good as the source.

A snippet from this AP story on some Iraq news will get us started. It’s really not unique, but it struck me poignantly the other day.

Flee Iraq, Foreign diplomats warned
By ROBERT H. REID
Friday, November 4, 2005 Posted at 3:24 PM EST
Associated Press

Baghdad — The country's most feared terror group warned foreign diplomats Friday to flee Iraq after announcing it will put to death two kidnapped Moroccan Embassy employees. Insurgents killed 11 Iraqi security troops and an American soldier in separate attacks.

The warning came in a statement posted on an Islamist Web site in the name of al-Qaeda in Iraq
, which also claimed responsibility for the July kidnap-slaying of two envoys from Algeria and one from Egypt as well as the abduction and beheading of many foreign hostages.

On Thursday, another Internet statement attributed to al-Qaeda said the two Moroccans had been condemned to death. There was no indication Friday that they had been killed.
___

Notice the highlighted portions of this excerpt show the reporter’s main source for the story is an unnamed Internet website. That’s it. How often have you been reminded not to believe everything you read? Are you convinced everything posted on the Internet is true? Yet this reporter doesn’t even bother to name the website which is his only source for the story.

When did it become acceptable for “journalists” to quote unidentified websites as the single source for stories about major developments in a war or other international affairs, or any news, for that matter? In theory, news is supposed to be substantiated. I know a large chunk of the mainstream media is prone to outside influence and doesn’t really follow this rule, but DAMN! I wonder how much of the major war reporting comes from unidentified Islamist websites?

And if we can turn messages from unidentified websites into “hard news”, why do we have to stick to Islamist websites? We can repeat claims from Louis Farakhan and Larry Flynt. It’s about time something like that hit the front page of the New York Times. Better yet, we can repeat claims from all sorts of characters without doing any investigation or fact checking. Plenty of websites make controversial claims backed up by mountains of evidence; but we can just pick the neat crazy-sounding ones about things like how flu shots are actually designed to make people spend money at Christmas.

At least the authors of conspiracy websites identify themselves as such, like Homer Simpson eventually did with Mr. X. In the AP story we began with, we’re taking the word of reporter Robert Reid who is getting his info from a website he doesn’t name, reporting scary messages on the Internet “in the name of” and “attributed to” Al-Qaeda.

If I were to put up an internet posting from “PETA in Iraq” and ordered all dog and cat owners to leave the country or face death, would it be reported in the Washington Post and the New York Times? Would they be kind enough to leave out the website name or any other identifying information, so people would just have to assume that I’m credible? I hope not, but it might happen. Of course, any responsible reporter would name the website and attempt to give some context and evaluation of the credibility of the message-poster and the PETA in Iraq organization, instead of simply invoking the name of the Boogeyman and running with it.

As a writer, I put my name on every word I issue, both in my news reporting and in my personal opinions in this space. I put myself at risk on several levels by doing so on. I face the risk that someone who doesn’t like what I write (and has a fascination with cannibalism) could hunt me down with the idea of eating my entrails in mind. On a different level, by speaking my mind on the record, I open myself up to evaluation and criticism from every angle.

Now that I really think about it, almost every major story on terrorism alleged to be the work of Al-Quaida that I can recall included citations from anonymous internet sites purportedly run by terrorist groups. And maybe they are. But how would you ever know? I can’t read Arabic. Can you read Arabic? Even if you could, would you be able to find the unnamed websites cited in the increasingly negligent mainstream media?

The popularity of sourcing anonymous websites rivals anonymous sourcing of government officials in terms of its complete lack of reliability, responsibility and accountability. Besides that, it makes a complete affront to rational discourse and accurate information. It’s hard to hold a debate based upon invisible sources, particularly when they contradict each other.

It’s impossible to accurately evaluate a statement without knowing who made it and in what context.
Yet many mainstream media reps commonly allow government officials to selectively make statements to which they will never have to own up. Nearly every major story out of Washington D.C. these days relies on anonymous sources. Government officials won’t even cough on record around a reporter. What does that say?

If it only happened every once in a while on stories that are extremely sensitive, it wouldn’t bother me so much. But it appears to have become an indispensable practice. Reporters for the major national papers can’t manage to write a compelling story without citing unnamed sources.

If the unnamed officials feel so strongly, why won’t they put their asses on the line for their beliefs? Is this not “the land of the free and the home of the brave?” You tell me.

Maybe I should just quit complaining and start playing the game. You know, one of those “If you can’t beat 'em, join ‘em” type of things.

The headlines might look something like this. I have to keep my sources secret, you know, so just trust me.

BUSH, CLINTON FAMILIES INVOLVED IN MASSIVE INTERNATIONAL CRIME SYNDICATE
Sealed indictments sight in-progress plans of Masonic New World Order.

BEATLEMANIA: PAUL IS DEAD?
Recent investigation suggests urban legend is fact: the real Paul McCartney died more than 30 years ago.

FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES HEAD AND OTHER HIGH LEVEL GOVT OFFICIALS APPOINTED TO HUMAN TRACKING IMPLANT COMPANY
Ridge, Thompson, just a few of the appointees to Applied Digital, Verichip, Digital Angel and other subsidiaries whose stated goal is to “implant the world.”

CONGRESS CONTINUES TO VIOLATE CONSTITUTION
No declaration of war in 50 years despite numerous WARS in violation of Article 1, Section 8 (clause 11) of the Constitution of the United States of America.

WEBSTERS DICTIONARY CONSIDERS DEFINING ACTIVIST JUDGES
Judges only considered “activist” when legal rulings anger partisan opponents. The idea is that activism is only activism when you disagree. If you agree, it’s just politics.

MULTIPLE CHOICE TESTS SCORE LOW IN EDUCATION VALUE
Studies prove good-guessers get away with ignorance. Essay and short answer tests actually require students to learn, but cannot be scored by computers or illegal immigrants.

OPTIMIST DROWNS IN HALF-FULL TUB
Pessimist survives by breathing through nose

FUNDAMENTALISTS WANT COMMANDMENTS DISPLAYED, NOT OBEYED
Religious fundamentalists want people to know “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but support “killing for democracy” in Iraq War. Pat Robertson continues to covet his neighbor’s wife and goods in addition to advocating assassination.

TWO WRONGS DO MAKE A RIGHT
Republican diehards say Bush is not to blame for claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and starting a war, because Clinton, Kerry et al. claimed the same thing before him. And my brother told me it was okay to steal from the supermarket, so it’s not my fault I got caught snaking a bottle of Absolut vodka.


-J.A.H.

1 Comments:

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

illegal immigrants? undocumented please. no human being should be considered illegal.

 

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