Sunday, December 7, 2014

What SI, 60 Minutes and Rolling Stone Forgot

Journalism requires verification.

Standard operating procedure for a journalist is to remind sources of that.   

"I'm a journalist. So I'm sure you understand when I say I don't believe anyone.   My job is to verify and confirm."  

The type of story (business, entertainment, political, education, medical, sports) makes no difference.  It's basic.  Journalists check facts.  Journalists verify and confirm.  

Sports Illustrated forgot that when it did a cover story of the football player with the poor dead girlfriend.    Instead of fact checking, SI published a national example on how not to report a feature story and Deadspin got it right:  Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax.

At 60 Minutes in its exclusive report featuring the guy writing a book about the Benghazi attack being published by a CBS subsidiary, the interview as broadcast isn't believable to any reporter who is actually a journalist.   The scene is described as Al Qaeda fighters everywhere.  Morgan Jones (real name - Dylan Davies) tells Lara Logan that in this incredibly dangerous situation an Al Qaeda fighter just walks up to him so Jones hits him with the butt of his rifle.


video


Who believes a story like that?   An Al Qaeda fighter in the overrun and burning compound just walks up to an American and allows himself to be hit the face with a rifle butt?  As Mother Jones later detailed, there were lots of basic questions that any journalist would be asking when vetting this story.   

Confirm and verify.   It's basic.   It's essential.  Why didn't Rolling Stone bother to do it as it reported a gang rape at the University of Virginia?  The magazine's note to readers is a long-winded way of saying it has forgotten how to do basic journalism.   Rolling Stone writes:  "We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie's request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account." 


When the President says Iraq poses an "imminent threat," a journalist doesn't believe that. A journalist seeks to verify and confirm.   What evidence is there?  Prior to the war, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Special Committee on Iraq both found Saddam had no nuclear capability.    There were some exceptions, but most of the Washington Press Corps didn't bother to confirm and verify, it just played human microphone stand.   Had journalists done their jobs, there would have been no war with Iraq. There was no threat, just the political desire by the Bush Administration to change the political map of the Middle East.  

The most unpatriotic act a journalist can ever commit is to fail to question his/her government.   That's more essential now than ever since we live in the land of the secret government approved by the secret court. 

It doesn't matter if you're reporting for the New York Times or the Tri-County News or 60 Minutes or the tv station in Glendive, Montana, the role of the journalist does not change.   The journalist confirms and verifies.  Journalism requires verification.   When journalism fails, bad things happen.

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