May 16th, 2005


The problem with anonymous sources.

The rightwingers are frothing over the latest Newsweek, which appologized for a one-sentence reference to the desecration of a Koran in a toilet at Guantanamo, claiming that they're responsible for the violence that came from protests in numerous major Islamic countries.

What they aren't pointing out, however, is that Newsweek hasn't backed off the story, which it got from a trusted source within government. Rather, they are simply saying that the claim of the desecration of the Koran didn't come from the government report they thought it came from, and was, infact, made in some other report that came across the source's desk. We know this report exists. Why? Because no less than four previous independent sources tell us it exists. Newsweek probably took the source on his word, precisely because what he said gibed with what was already reported.

The Bush administration has had the opportunity to deny that such an event was mentioned in any reports they've had access to, but instead, they've just claimed that the allegation wasn't a part of foo report... followed by a good, thorough slurring of the reporter / magazine in question. That, to me, is a far more deceptive act than anything Newsweek could be accused of in this case.

The problem here isn't Newsweek. Rather, it's anonymous sources. There is a strong public need for anonymous sources, whistleblowers, etc. This particular anonymous source was apparently a reliable, respected government source who had been accurate numerous times in the past. The problem is, it's notoriously hard to verify such sources.

So, what do you do? The best you can. You read the news with a grain of salt. Now, I assume that people overseas know about as well as people within the U.S. that they shouldn't trust the media... so why the riots? Because they were already angry at us.

So, what is the option here? Get rid of all anonymous sources?! That guy who goes to your local newspaper, for instance, to let them know that his company has been dumping toxins upriver from where your family gets its water, for instance? I don't think so.

Anonymous sources are a standard tool that journalists use... period. They aren't going away. The level of scrutiny they receieve before they go to print may increase or decrease, but it's hypocritical for the Bush administration to slam anonymous sources, when, infact, their own administration officials frequently speak "off the record", often in order to leak inaccurate, slanted information, or sometimes, to slur their enemies. They even do it when it threatens our country's security and when it's illegal for them to do so.

Pot. Kettle. Black. Move on...

In other news... This is a cool story, but please, God, please... don't let it become the next Tom Hanks movie.