June 30, 2003

If Your Mother Says She Loves You

Check it out. And that seems to be the culprit behind many of today's journalism scandals - as a well the perception by the public that the press is not paying attention. They're not checking it out enough. Jayson Blair - check him out. George Bush - check him out. Weapons of mass destruction - check them out.

Gilbert Cranberg, a former editorial page editor of the Des Moines Register, examined "some 40" editorials in the wake of Colin Powell's Feb. 5 report to the Security Council in which he presented "evidence" that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Cranberg found that "that while some (papers) were less convinced than others by Powell's attempt to link Hussein to terrorism, there was unanimity as to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction."

As we now know, the truth was a moving target at that Security Council meeting.

Cranberg writes in the Washington Post: "Journalists are supposed to be professional skeptics, but nowhere in the commentary was there a smidgen of skepticism about the quality of Powell's evidence. Powell cited almost no verifiable sources. Many of his assertions were unattributed. The speech had more than 40 vague references such as 'human sources,' 'an eyewitness,' 'detainees,' 'an al-Qaeda source,' 'a senior defector,' 'intelligence sources,' and the like."

Cranberg blames the rush to judgment by editorial writers for their lack of judgment. "The downside of instant analysis is the scant time it leaves for careful reporting and reflection," he says.

It doesn't matter whether it's expediency or mediocrity that converts watchdogs into lapdogs [ Read: Flogging a Dead Corpse ] the result is the same: Journalism suffers and the public perception of the press grows dimmer.

Gilbert Cranberg - check him out.

Links
 Gilbert Cranberg . . . Bring Back the Skeptical Press

Posted by Tim Porter at June 30, 2003 07:42 AM
Comments

Powell cited almost no verifiable sources. Many of his assertions were unattributed. The speech had more than 40 vague references such as 'human sources,' 'an eyewitness,' 'detainees,' 'an al-Qaeda source,' 'a senior defector,' 'intelligence sources,' and the like."

Wow, that sounds like your average Washington Post story. With so many journalists using unnamed sources, is it any wonder the editorial writers didn't bother to check out Powell's assertions?

I think before the press becomes too skeptical of Powell, they would do well to clean up their own mess of off-the-record and deep background reporting - especially in Washington.

Posted by: bryan on June 30, 2003 03:10 PM

If your mother says she loves you...

You mean that's a standard journalism caveat?

I thought that was just the sayin' of my journalism instructor at HSU. Either way, it's in awfully short supply in the national press. Or should I say 'the national press release'?

Posted by: Cowboy Kahlil on July 6, 2003 08:22 AM
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