Tuesday, May 23, 2006

An Anonymous Source

"In a heated argument we are apt to lose sight of the truth." ~ Publilius Syrus

I was listening to a news report yesterday about the Washington DC sniper trial, and the proverbial anonymous source was quoted saying it looked like John Lee Malvo was not going to testify this day, but possibly the next. Suddenly my focus shifted from the story to the use of anonymous sources. It seems anonymous sources are quoted in almost every news story, and I wonder if anyone but me has a problem with this.

Exactly how credible are these sources? How do we know whether they have any credibility at all?

As I have mentioned in the past, I have been in court trials a few times, as a witness, a juror, and yes, even as a defendant. This is what made me start thinking about the use of anonymous sources as reliable sources of important information in news stories. During the recesses of these trials, invariably, there are spectators who mill about outside the doors of the courtroom discussing the days events, and musing about what will transpire next.

I wonder if the reporter who wrote the story I heard about John Lee Malvo got his information from one of these spectators. How credible could that spectator be?

I recognize that reporters may need to rely on questionable sources to give their stories some punch, and often times there are viable reasons to keep the identity of the interviewee secret. But is there some template or guideline we can use to ascertain whether these secret witnesses are indeed credible or not?

If not, shouldn't there be?

I have a hard time believing many of the stories printed in the New York Times and other Liberal leaning media outlets, and that feeling of skepticism is compounded whenever they cite anonymous sources. It seems to me that the more incredible the story, the more they rely on anonymous sources.

Ah heck, we might as well say the same about Conservative leaning news outlets. No doubt they are just as guilty.

Another thing I've noticed. People with agendas tend to take things that people say out of context. I know that isn't news to my Conservative friends. The left leaning media is expert at doing that, and they do it often. But let's be honest. So do the Conservative leaning outlets. I do not read NewsMax for that very reason. The obvious bias in their reporting unsettles me. I do not want to comment on news items that are not "fair and balanced", to borrow a time worn phrase.

And yet, we are hard pressed to find something unbiased.

Let me explain why I brought this up. Sean Hannity. Not just Sean Hannity but many other Conservatives, but he is the one who's commentary made me think of this point.

Whenever he attempts to make the point that Democrats are mean spirited and hateful towards Conservatives and Republicans, He always makes reference to John Kerry's statement about American servicemen who barge into the homes of innocent Iraqis "terrorizing women and children". Anyone who has heard that sound bite knows, if they are being intellectually honest, that Kerry was not calling American servicemen terrorists. But that is how it is portrayed by Hannity.

Additionally, Hannity often reels off a laundry list of inflammatory statements attributed to Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic party. While most of the statements he references indeed have no defense for their mean spiritedness, at least one of them is taken out of context, but Hannity continues to use it to demonstrate evidence that Dean is a raving lunatic.

That statement, the infamous "Republicans never did an honest days work in their lives", is misquoted by Hannity. And he very well knows it. He leaves out one very significant word that Dean didn't leave out of that statement.


Dean actually said, "Many Republicans never did an honest days work in their lives".

Can anyone see how the omission of one word changes the ultimate connotation?

Of course, this doesn't mean Democrats aren't guilty of the same things. You all know I could reel off hundreds of examples of Democrats taking Republican words and phrases out of context to obscure the real meaning of a Republican's point.

I suppose in a perfect world, the names of all sources would be published so that we could check their veracity. I think that would go a long way toward re-establishing the credibility of the press.

And, In a perfect world, Democrats and Republicans would quote their opponents accurately and in context.

Of course, this is far from a perfect world.


Sheila said...

Thanks for that Mark,

Fair and balanced for once :) I'm sick and tired of the tit-for-tat. Some people may be happily collecting false and misquoted statments to further their own cause.

However, it is distroying our country by pitting one side against the other in a cold war.

I personally have come to believe that at least 75% of "Annonymous" sourses don't exist.

Mark said...

So much for the vacation, eh, Carville?


Sheila said...

A small one. Wordman talked me down. :)

I'm ready ward off the nasties again.

Timothy said...

I see your point, but the word "many" doesn't make the statement any better. I would say that "most" Republicans are hard workers... "Many" to me means more than a "few"... which would have made the statement true. The statement still seems untrue.

Sheila said...

Here is the exact statment and context in which it was made.

"Dean's 25-minute speech to the Campaign for America's Future annual gathering was interrupted frequently by applause, but his line about Republican work habits also produced an undertow of ''oohs'' and ''aahs.''

Asserting that some Florida voters stood in line for eight hours in November, Dean said that was a hardship for people who ''work all day and then pick up their kids at child care.''

But, he said, Republicans could stand in eight-hour lines ''because a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.''"

Dean was alluding to the diferance in income levels in the Republican as compared to the Democrat Party.

Now before we get off on the tangient of mean Dean was;

Let me remind you of how many times you've heard a "flourish" of this sort that Karl ROve said, that Wasn't exactly true, and it was made to specifically whip up the base.

That's some of Mark's point too.

Lone Ranger said...

Let's not get entangled in this "fair and balanced" dodge (Yes, there's that world "dodge" again). There are some things on which there can be no compromise. For instance, I don't want to hear the liberals' defense of abortion any more than I want to hear the Nazis' reasons for killing Jews. It's wrong. It's murder. I hope you all burn in hell. Period. I don't want to be fair and balanced to killers.

Where I work, we aren't allowed to use anonymous sources and we are strongly discourged from quoting stories that do. But, there are cases in which sources need to remain anonymous. For instance, here in the DC area, we have a big problem with retaliation against witnesses or sources. People are just killed for talking to authorities or to the press.

In some cases, the anonymous source can be very credible, but in others, it's the perfect way to plant misinformation in the media. It's up to the reporter to make the determination, and all too often, the reporter isn't that discriminating if the story backs up his political bias.

Gayle said...

Since I agree all the way down the line with the Lone Ranger's comment, I'll take the easy way out and say "What the Lone Ranger said."

The only other thing I want to say (other than "good job" Mark) is that if we must only read or listen or watch content that is "fair and balanced", what in the world are we going to read, listen or watch???

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

I really don't know how Sean Hannity gained such a following. He epitomizes Republican talking points, and repeats himself so often, rehashing the same old quotes (or distorted quotes) and using the same old material he argued with the previous week. Whatever his guest says, seems to go right through him, like he's not even listening, and comes back with a typical "you liberals are so full of hate and venom" line of argument. Makes me cringe.

That being said, I see more "sean hannitys'" of the left than I do of the right. (Haha, Sheila...)

Sheila said...

I said,

"Thanks for that Mark,

Fair and balanced for once :) I'm sick and tired of the tit-for-tat. Some people may be happily collecting false and misquoted statments to further their own cause."

LR, "YOu said,Let's not get entangled in this "fair and balanced" dodge (Yes, there's that world "dodge" again). There are some things on which there can be no compromise. For instance, I don't want to hear the liberals' defense of abortion any more than I want to hear the Nazis' reasons for killing Jews. It's wrong. It's murder. I hope you all burn in hell. Period. I don't want to be fair and balanced to killers."

Well then God Bless You. Here's my other cheek. :)

rich bachelor said...

I'm glad you wrote this.
Gayle raises a good point though, in that since every source has an opinion, who exactly can claim to be objective?
But I'm still glad that you wrote this.

tugboatcapn said...

Why does News Coverage have to be "Fair and Balanced"?

Why does it have to be "Left or Right Leaning"?

Why can't we seperate our News from Commentary?

I don't listen to Hannity every day, but I listen to him from time to time, and at no point have I ever heard him refer to himself as a "Journalist."

He is a Commentator, as is Rush.

They do not hide behind the mask of "Journalistic Integrity" to attempt to change public policy or influence public opinion.

I have no problem with either of them.

What burns my biscuits is when so called "Objective Journalists" shade or spin their so called "News" stories in order to shift public opinion in favor of their own particular political leanings.

And it happens all the time.

This is just as serious an abuse of the First Ammendment as outlawing Religious Displays in Public, or Book Burning, or prohibiting the purchase of Commercial time for Political Ads within 30 or 60 days of a major Election.

I don't want "Fair and Balanced News."

I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from the people who bill themselves as "Journalists".

I will seek out commentary when I want that.

Lone Ranger said...

I don't listen to Hannity a lot either. I have to admit that repeating his talking points annoys me too. It's not as if there weren't enough to hold against liberals. But then Alan Colmes is just as guilty by repeating his liberal tactics over and over. "Are you saying that so-and-so (the liberal under discussion) is a liar?" "I didn't hear that remark, so I can't comment on it," as though not hearing the remark in question means it never happened, etc.

When I am at work, I am a conservative journalist. That means I set aside my conservative convictions and don't use prejudiced language when I am reporting about a communist Chinese general contributing 50K to Clinton's reelection campaign. But when I am blogging, I lean more toward the truth, more toward common sense, than try to be fair and balanced.

Goat said...

That is why I love the blogosphere so much.

ELAshley said...

I was with you on up through the 'anonymous sources' bit, but you lost me at Hannity's less than perfect quoting of Howard Dean.

I don't honestly see that the word "Many," omitted or otherwise, mitigates the offensive nature of the statement as a whole. How much is "Many"? What percentage rate does the esteemed Mr. Dean ascribe to "Many"?

I've had to work very hard for the things I have, so I obviously don't fall within his undeclared and indeterminate margin. Howard Dean's characterization of "many" republicans having never worked an honest days work in their lives, is akin to my stating that "many" democrats couldn't tell the truth if their asses were on fire. It's offensive... My statement as well as his.

Hannity may indeed be wrong for throwing Dean's, and every other Liberal's words back in their faces, and the faces of conservative critics, but I don't understand why you're castigating Hannity for dropping one word... Especially a word that doesn't really mitigate the offensive nature of Dean's ill-considered comment.

Dean is a buffoon. Parse that statement all you want, but the fact remains, he's a train-wreck waiting to happen.

Why is it Republican's and Conservatives are so reluctant to defend themselves? Are they afraid of getting dirty? Well, Hell! You're not going to win a mudfight by avoiding the mudpuddle!

If Hannity is wrong for the tactics he uses, fine. But please offer me something more than his failure to qualify a completely offensive statement by his lack of inclusion of a single word which, in terms of the bigger picture, alters nothing in as far as Dean's intent was concerned... Which to my ears was blatantly apparent.

Pamela Reece said...

Mark, As always, I am not on any "extremist" side. Since Fox News took the catchphrase "fair and balanced" I disassociated from that. However, I know that is who I am and I Know it is who you are, too! I opt out of this argument because these is none to be made in my view. You are correct and that is all there is to say. Thank you, Mark, for giving us all the perspective I need!