Saturday, July 01, 2006

Anonymous Sources of Spin

Why is our media so damn stupid?  I don’t get it.  They can write well enough.  Most of them must have graduated from a college of some sort.  So on an individual level, I’m sure they’re probably intelligent enough people.  What went wrong?  

What I’m complaining about this time is the whole anonymous sources crap.  We recently had a problem with the media getting bullshitted with anonymous sources, and the media responded to this by taking them seriously and agreeing not to give blanket anonymity to sources which don’t need to be anonymous.  Sure, that was already part of their ethics; but they were supposed to take it seriously now.

Here’s part of The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:
Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.

And that sounds pretty straight forward.  But what has happened in practice?  As we all know, they’ve simply added longer disclaimers as to why anonymity was granted.  And the joke is that it’s obvious that journalists don’t think they’re granting anonymity.  They act like it’s a right that people have, to be quoted anonymously; rather than a decision that is entirely up to the journalist.  

And in a way, it is a right; if you’re an important person like a Whitehouse staffer, anyway.  Because journalists like the access that giving blanket anonymity provides and if you won’t quote them anonymously, there’s always another journalist who will.  Besides, as any blogger or student will tell you, it’s always easier to fill space when you’re retyping someone else’s words.

The Pirate’s Code

Needless to say, unlike many other professions (including my own), the journalist code of ethics is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.  As the Society explains:
American citizens’ constitutional rights to free speech and a free press are vulnerable, and they are placed in jeopardy whenever we allow them to be confused with or limited by the professional responsibility to act ethically.

Yes, and let me tell you, it is just sooooo confusing to follow a code of ethics that is mandatory and detailed.  It’s so much easier and less confusing if it’s voluntary and everyone gets to follow whatever rules they want, whenever they want; than if folks have to work by the same set of rules all the time.  That’s why we have so many criminals; because they’re all so confused by their responsibility to act legally.

And in case you were wondering: Yes, Arthur Andersen and many of their CPA’S got totally screwed by my ethics board; including heavy fines and losing their livelihoods.  And afterwards, they tightened the code and made us have to take an ethics course more frequently.  And if you don’t like it, you don’t get to be a CPA.  Damn mandatory codes.

Internal Debate

I got this latest one via Digby, who quotes an article saying (emphasis added):
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the issue is still being debated internally, seemed to hint at the potential political implications in Congress. "Members of both parties will have to decide whether terrorists who cherish the killing of innocents deserve the same protections as our men and women who wear the uniform," this official said.

Because it’s still being debated internally???  What the hell excuse is that for granting anonymity?  Because this isn’t an inside scoop that the source would get in trouble for.  This isn’t even a leak.  This is outright spin that helps the source’s boss.  I seriously doubt that the source wasn’t instructed to say it.  This was straight-up spin which can’t be attributed to anyone; and thus, given more potency.  After all, this wasn’t a political hitman; this was an “official” who supposedly wasn’t given permission to say these things.

And what does “debated internally” even mean?  That because they haven’t decided for sure to go with this spin, that it’s ok to not source it to the Whitehouse?  At best, this is a trial balloon to see if the spin works; and more likely, this is the agreed-upon spin for now.  This doesn’t deserve anonymity, and if the Bush Admin can’t say this stuff directly; then they shouldn’t get to say it at all.  This is disgusting.  This is wrong.  And yet, this is exactly what we’ll continue to get.  

And as long as that’s the case, the media will continue to be used as a source of bullshitty spin rather than informing the public; thus betraying the entire point of a free press.  After all, why even have a free press if they’re going to give access to the government that they won’t give to the rest of us.  I personally would love to be quoted in these kinds of articles, anonymously or not; but I’m unlikely to even get one letter published in the “Who Gives a Crap” section of my local newspaper.  While this government official is given free reign to recite political messages without repercussions to a nationwide audience.

And yet somehow, it’s people like me who get accused of screwing with journalism; rather than the people who are actually ruining it.  But thank god we don’t have a mandatory ethics code for journalists.  We’d be so confused.

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