2018/11/14

NY Times makes major screw-up


On the 21st of September, the New York Times published a story suggesting that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had seriously proposed wearing a wire in meetings with the President. Criticism of the story was so swift and severe that by the end of the day, Matthew Rosenberg (he covers intelligence and national security for the Times) said: “Enough already: @adamgoldmanNYT & @nytmike broke an important story that advances our understanding of a crucial moment. It’s no plot by pro-Trump forces. It’s good reporting.”

Actually, it’s hard to imagine how the story ever got off the ground when:

Rosenstein disputed this account.
“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement.

Now, when someone denies a story in which they are accused of taking an action, it hardly means they're innocent. But it does mean that the story needs to be backed up with serious evidence. If the news source doesn't have that stronger evidence, the story needs to stay in the reporter's desk drawer or computer to await the day when better evidence is available.

But the story was based on second-hand, hearsay sources. When the story says of their sources:“The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by F.B.I. officials...” then that means that nobody who was quoted was actually in the room when Rosenstein said what he allegedly said. That means that Rosenstein's word trumps anything the paper's sources said.

Was the story “important?” Good Heavens, if the story can’t even be substantiated as accurate, then no. By definition, it isn’t important.
Also, it’s not as though a story about hate and discontent and chaos in the early days of the Trump Administration is “news” in any meaningful sense of the word . People generally knew that. No, nothing was “advanced.”

Good reporting? Hardly. This fails Journalism 101.

Was the story consequential? Unfortunately, yes it was. The President immediately accused Rosenstein of having been “hired” by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

ThinkProgress reports that:

The news story has Washington on edge, amid fears that the report may push the mercurial president to fire Rosenstein — an action he has long been rumored to be considering. Such a move would have knock on effects on the ongoing Justice Department probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, an investigation being led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.

And Sean Hannity of Fox News said that Rosenstein was "leading a silent coup against Trump."

Liberals and conservatives evaluate news differently. A conservative commenting in my local paper dismissed a piece of evidence I produced because it came from a magazine called “Mother Jones.” Obviously, he thought, nothing serious could come out of a news source with such a silly name.
Liberals have little use for knowing where a news item came from. It’s not completely irrelevant, but it’s not among the top five pieces of evidence we need to evaluate a story. In addition to whether a story follows the rules of just plain good journalism as we saw in the story I just cited, then if it's accurate, it will be re-published by several different sources as each of those sources will be expected to do their due diligence to verify the story. Also, if the story is accurate, the other sources are likely to add other details to it.

If a story is crap, it won't go anywhere. The host of Infowars, Alex Jones, came up with the bizarre notion of humanoids, who are “like 80 percent gorilla and 80 percent pig and they're talking." Never heard of this story? Exactly. If the story had any credibility, it would have been re-published by other sources. As it was, it didn't survive getting outside the “hothouse” of Infowars.

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