Mainstream “news” has a problem. Reporters for more traditional big name organizations no longer need to present actual proof of anything they report. The reason mainstream reporters do this is to feed the beast of the 24-72 hour news cycle. The most recent “revelations” by “anonymous sources” regarding alleged statements by President Trump exemplify this issue. It is a story which fits the preconception that he does not respect veterans, but there is a huge difference between going after a political opponent who happens to be a vet and insulting dead WWI or WWII soldiers. There also is a problem of many people confusing respect for deference and reverence. The problem is not Trumps for having said horrible things about some living veterans, it is on the reporters to not let confirmation bias fool them.
First and foremost, I have many veterans in my family in the last three generations and right back to the Revolutionary War. That has taught me one important lesson. Veterans are people. I respect their service provided it was honorable. That does not mean they are beyond criticism. If a vet becomes a senator and thinks no one will ever criticize him/her they are delusional. Yes, there are veterans who outside of the military are total screw ups. This is true of any large diverse group of people. This is not the world of “Starship Troopers” where only veterans are citizens. We aren’t in that dystopia yet.
Respecting veterans sacrifices for our freedom and also respecting their humanity enough to not worship them is the true American way. They did not fight to be knighted.
Two Kinds of Anonymous Sources and One 24 Hour News Cycle.
The fundamental problem of all news outlets is the need for a steady stream of new content. For traditional news outlets this is even harder since everyone working there makes most of their income off that stream of content. Thus, it can be expedient to rely on anonymous sources. Often people need to be protected from consequences of what they reveal.
A big problem is there are two kinds of revelations from anonymous sources ones which are documented/documentable and those which are essentially glorified rumors.
For example, leaking classified documents that show that the US has engaged in war crimes and choose to stay anonymous that is a brave act. The leaker is risking jail and providing hard proof of what they say. Reporting based on such documents, which can be verified, read, examined is strong and professional reporting. Leaking the bodycam footage of a police officer engaged in brutality, leaking the audio recording of a president calling soldiers who died losers would be brave. Reporting the existence of such recordings, or documents would be Pulitzer prize worthy.
“Reporting” what anonymous sources claim, with no other documentation, is little better than lunchroom gossip. The only thing that makes it slightly better is the practice of claiming to have to have gotten it confirmed by more than one anonymous person. Rumors don’t become true simply because they are repeated enough times. That’s not journalism that is political propaganda.
Mainstream Reporters Have to Feed the Beast.
I can only imagine the pressure that reporters for the likes of a Fox, CNN, Washington Post, more prominent online sources like The Atlantic or even local newspaper must feel to have something new to say or report every… single… day. Most days, thankfully, nothing much happens. An easy day for a reporter to write their story is probably not a great day for the rest of us. So, it could be very tempting to run with a story that is weak but which will make a big splash vs one which is stronger but more mundane.
For example, It would be very easy for me to claim that anonymous sources inside or who work with Boeing, Space X, NASA, ESA etc tell me X Y Z. If whatever I made up was credible sounding enough and hard enough to disprove, I would be in the clear. For example, suppose this very blog said:
Anonymous sources tell me that the SLS and JWST will be delayed by another six months and cost another half billion dollars each.
No one has told me any such thing…but prove that wrong. I’d bet real money if a reporter wanted to find two anonymous people in the space business to say that the SLS and JWST are going to or could be delayed again they would. Even though I just made that up out of whole cloth.
YouTube and Blogs Can Be More Credible Because We Doubt Them.
I will not claim that indie and smaller news organizations are automatically more reliable just because they are small. What we cannot do is trade on the name recognition of where we work/write/produce. If indie news as seen on Youtube channels like Rising (The Hill), China Uncensored, The Epoch Times (also and originally a news paper), ADV China (generally lighter China / Asia views), or Linus Tech Tips for a non-political example. They report based on facts which they can document. They then show you those documents, or videos. They show you who, what, where, when, and why. They may even document how they find their information. The basics of what a news story should give. No one would believe a word they say if they did not.
That is how all news should be treated, with utmost skepticism.
As a rule if a news story does not give the five W’s and provide documentable verifiable sources then, it is not news. Then it is just gossip. No matter who writes it, or who publishes it, or who it is about.
There have been times where I had damaging “information” from “anonymous sources” about people ideologically opposed to me. I did not write a word of it. It would have served my purposes to report it but I didn’t. The most precious currency in this business is credibility.
Reporters even for the big names should likewise also have to prove every claim. If at least one source is not willing to go on record, do not report the story. Instead write about something real that is going on and effecting regular people.
NOTE this shows CNN reporting some real news. Real events, happening to real people, recently, documenting what is happening. That is the power of a big name and resources put to good use. See it might not be as sexy as reporting rumors of things or as intriguing as reporting that anonymous sources confirmed them also with anonymous sources, but it is real.
This is a follow up to my last blog in which I used particularly visceral hatred directed towards newer Star Trek series as an example.
A Trek Youtuber by the name of Ketwolski details how he exposed the “anonymous sourcing” of another Trek Youtuber who went by the name “Doomcock” as being totally bogus. “Doomcock” was believed because his audience hate all star Trek which is new and which has minority characters front and center. Doomcock claimed to have two anonymous insider sources but really he was just believing anonymous post made by Ketwolski and others posted to 4chan just to bait him.
This makes me wonder.... would the internet troll-in-chief, President Trump, be trolling the news media with some of these "leaks".
Confirmation Bias, even news reporters need to be aware of it. The more tempting it is to believe a report with only anonymous sources the more important it is to be warry of that report.
Last but not least for those who don't get the Starship Troopers reference. It is a book by Robert Heinlein who was himself a veteran. He wrote of a dystopian future where to be a citizen required enlisting to fight in what appears to be a totally pointless war against "bugs". Non humanoid aliens.