Now that the media has outsourced the responsibility for fact-checking, source-vetting and overall bullshit detecting to the general public, I wonder which of us will get fired over this?
From the "Daily Beast":
On the other hand, Doward had a source and a keyboard and a point-of-view, which makes him just as much a "journalist" as me or Jeff Gannon or Walter Cronkite.... But even ignoring Madsen’s background, Doward’s story is a marvel of awful journalism. While the Observer headline screamed that it had “revealed” a troubling partnership between the United States and Europe in data sharing, Doward offhandedly mentions that Madsen was basing his claims on “declassified documents”—which, oddly, weren’t posted with the story and are available on the NSA’s website. And overlooked by those piling on The Observer was the rather significant fact that the paper appears not to have spoken to Madsen, instead mining quotes from an interview he gave to a blog called PrivacySurgeon.org. (Indeed, some of Doward’s language is very similar to the source material, but why kick a man when he’s down?)Providing a patina of respectability to a disreputable source, Doward informs Observer readers that Madsen previously held “several sensitive positions within” the NSA over a 12-year period. The only supporting evidence for the claim is Madsen himself, though his claims of previous NSA employment have shifted over the years. In a 2011 Guardian article endorsing 9/11 conspiracy theories, Madsen was cited as a former “NSA operative.”Desperate to get in on the NSA scoop game, Salon cannibalized the Madsen story, receiving a coveted Drudge Report link for its troubles. One can only assume that influenced Salon’s decision not to pull the story, instead issuing a vague “update” saying that The Observer had pulled the story “pending an investigation.” The author of Salon’s piece, Prachi Gupta, didn’t respond to an email inquiry. From there, the Madsen story spidered out to Die Welt, the Sacramento Bee, Corriere Della Sera, and countless others.Like the unstoppable proliferation of junk science, the laundered conspiracy theory is a stubborn thing. In 2002, after Madsen had declared 9/11 an “inside job,” The Guardian cited him and his “sources” when it reported that the United States Navy assisted a short-lived coup that toppled Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez. No supporting evidence exists for the claim—like the NSA story, it sounds plausible—but it has wormed its way into various academic books and is prominently cited in a Wikipedia entry detailing “covert United States foreign regime change actions.” A quote from Madsen would be quickly flagged; a report from The Guardian lies dormant.The Internet, of course, makes it both far easier to expose frauds like Madsen and to deceive unsophisticated readers and reporters. But with very real revelations of NSA surveillance coming trickling out from The Guardian, is it too much to ask for its sister publication, in its hunger for clicks, to stop undermining its credibility by polluting the news with nonsense stories sourced to nonsense people?
Also I distinctly remember being lecture very earnestly about four of our New Journalism's most sacred rules:
- The background or personal agenda of a source is irrelevant.
- The background or personal agenda of the journalist is irrelevant.
- Whether or not the journalist got some fiddling little details wrong is irrelevant.
- People who ask questions about rules 1,2 or 3 are co-opted hypocrites and stooges who argue in bad faith and ought not be trusted.
So now I'm all confused.