The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, March 01, 2004

WaPo and the Landesman-type story

Ombud Michael Getler (March 1) highlights the sourcing difficulties of a story on the hunt for Osama bin Laden by Steve Coll - who just so happens to be the Post's managing editor - that ran in the paper a few days ago.

Whilst there's no suggestion that Coll's material - from a book he's shilling - has been called into question, the freewheeling style, with no effort at disclosing information on the source of individual facts, is similar to that of Landesman's work.

Getler says Coll's stuff is an example of
what some call "trust me" journalism.

(And what other kind is there?)

The fact that Coll has passed on the tired, often meaningless, old formulas doesn't seem to me to make his pieces any more or less needing of trust than the standard WaPo extrusion of the Administration's bowel movement of the day.

Getler links his remarks - but not his article (Jesus!) - to the newly minted WaPo guidelines on the use of sources [1]. He points, with approval, to an exception to the general rules on identifying sources:
It is not always necessary to interrupt a narrative constantly to attribute small details to specific sources. It is sometimes possible to attribute the details . . . in a single sentence or paragraph.

However, the most pressing problem - one that Getler acknowledges - is the groundless use of anonymous sources: a whistleblower in the State Department needs anonymity, an official stating official policy does not.

Plainly, the leading organs of the press should refuse to use such material unless its sources' names can be quoted. Otherwise, their credibility cannot fail further to deteriorate.

They won't; it will.

  1. Which I mentioned on February 19 - copy on Poynter, as is the New York Times equivalent paper (PDF), dated February 27.

    Also note a Poynter page on the issue of anonymous sources.

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