Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Journalists, Heed the I-Man!

Once again, Don Imus gets it right concerning the veritable shitstorm surrounding Newsweek and the Koran-flushing story. Here is a bit from Imus's show on Tuesday, May 17:

(For those who don't know, "Charles" is Charles McCord. He is Imus's long-standing news man)

Imus: "We're tired of this! We're tired of these anonymous sources. At least, if they are going to use anonymous sources, and Craig Crawford is right and others, and in some instances obviously they have to, but we need some sort of context. They don't provide any context. We don't know what this government official...this high government official who? Or if they can't be identified, why can't they be identified? How do we know? What insurances can they give us? People like Michael Isikoff and these other folks, that the person who they are talking to, knows what they are talking about. Can they put that in some sort of context so we have some sort of frame of reference?"

Charles: "...Something to base some sort of judgment on."

Imus: "About half the time when we have these dopey reporters on, and they try to tell me, and I've questioned it before, (I haven't) gone into great detail because I'm just jerking their chain without really thinking about it. When you talk about a high ranking official from the administration told me... Well who? If they could not have done it by themselves, why couldn't they? What's the motive of giving you this information you moron."

Sometimes it takes a haggard, angry, cynical ex-alcoholic and cokehead to get to the bottom of things. Hunter Thompson is dead, so we must seek it where it may be found.

Need to keep the bastards honest.


Maura Giles said...

As a reporter, I have to say, that when crossed with the decision to use an "anonymous source," I usually pass. To me, reporting is kind of like investigating, and almost anything can be found out.
As I misheard a former college professor say to me once: Writing is like gynocology . . . sometimes you have to dig a little deeper into things.

Aaron Cynic said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aaron Cynic said...

I think one of the things that's not being reported on about this Newsweek catastrophe is that the incident *is* most likely true, and there are sources to back them up on this, they're just not pentagon or state sponsored sources, so no one gives a shit.

I'm not a fan of anonymous sources either, but I do defend the right to use them. After all, if the Pentagon and Homeland Security can come out and say "we have anonymous sources that say a terror attack is going to happen sometime, somewhere," then how come a reporter can't do something similar? Don't forget that unnamed sources are used all of the time and every day in thousands of news articles.

Kate and I were having a discussion about this, and she brought up a very interesting point. Basically, according to the government, they're pissed off that someone received what may be faulty information and ran a story on it. Supposedly, the recent rioting overseas was caused by this story, and therefore 15 people died because of someone running with some faulty information.

Now turn it around. The United States has fought an entire war based on faulty information, and now hundreds of thousands of people are dead because of it. Who's accountable for that? How can the White House expect accountability in the press room when there is none in Washington DC? But I'm sidestepping here.

The real issue here is the use of anonymous sources. If we were to say, disavow everything anonymous sources have given us, we'd not only have to retract some stories recently - but every report coming out of any Washington agency would have to be retracted. After all, there are whole organizations that base their every day actions on "anonymous sources."

The other part of anonymous sources is simply this: sometimes, people don't want to have to face horrible repercussions for their statements. Think about those sources that blew the whistle on Enron. If they had to give their names and phone numbers to the public, would they have come forward so easily? There's a million situations similar where people simply don't want to be identified for their own protection. In this case, a Pentagon official who brought to light some damning charges against his bosses (which as I've said before, are already credible and were fact checked twice, actually) didn't want his name listed. If I worked for the Pentagon and wanted to blow the whistle on abuses, I wouldn't either. Who knows what could happen to my career, myself, or my family?

Another thing you have to remember about this (and the conspiratorial side of me has more to say about this) is that this story has already broken, and has been going on for years. No one in the mainstream has been talking about it. You can read some recent articles on prisoner abuses in Gitmo here:,,1168937,00.html,,1153400,00.html

There's also a really good perspective article on this news story and overall situation here:

You can poke around on the internet and in the back pages of newspapers and foreign sources, and you'll find that Guantanamo Bay is not a bed of roses as many conservative pundits have said before. There's constant and consistent abuse. However, because all of the sources come from either prisoners or foreign media, Americans don't believe it. Not because it isn't true, but because so many people seem to trust our media (which are really just lapdogs for state officials) that we can't believe it if it isn't on a cable news network.

This I think, highlights a much larger problem in not only American journalism and media, but also in American consumption of said journalism and media. A HUGE percentage of people are skeptical of the media, unless it comes from a state sponsored source. That's a problem. The problem is not anonymous sources or Dan Rather, the problem is that we're eating the shit that is shoveled to us like ice cream. We don't question, we don't poke, we don't prod, we don't research. We're content to sit in our homes and digest the news, without ever questioning what it's doing to our worldview.

This is a very dangerous time for journalists and media. The state wants more lapdogs, more pushovers to shovel their agenda on the masses. The people of this country need skeptics and questioners. The only way for a democracy to survive is if it's people are well informed on what their government is up to. Simply put, we're in danger of surviving, because we're in the dark.

Will Shannon said...

Mr. Cynic-

As usual, your perspective sheds considerable light on the larger issues at hand in the debate.

I am with you in the idea that this story is most likely true. To the larger point, people need to be constantly distrustful of the government and anything that comes from it. These people have an agenda and the aegis of the state with which to defend it.

One can trace blind trust of the state, in my opinion, to the nineteenth century when governments became more and more interested in the lives of their citizens. People slowly became categorized, numbered and tracked from cradle to grave all in the name of "social engineering." From that time to our own, it has been a constant struggle to see that the government is but one player in the discourse that is modern life. Taking a page from Michel Foucault, it is merely speech couched in the power/knowledge dynamic on which the modern centralized state is based.

To conclude, I am reminded of the words of the ancient Athenian politician Pericles "Simply because the government doesn't interest you means not that the government isn't interested in you."