All the News That’s Fit to be Anonymously Sourced

Bill Keller is using his column to defend his dinosaur again. If you’ve tired lately of him showing off his black belt in self-defense, have no fear; he assures us that his intent is not use his column exclusively as a bully pulpit.

Who’s he trying to bully this time? Everyone not named the New York Times.

The right for their chants of liberal bias; the left for the chants of not liberal enough.

James O’Keefe for gotcha agenda journalism; Julian Assange for attempting to advance his anarchy through true news outlets.

And also Birthers. Yes, in what Keller must have thought of as a “I’ll show them that we can take bold stands a single folks out in the place of broad general phrases like ‘far-fetched ideas'” moment he points out to the Birthers their ideas are in fact far-fetched. They are, but Bill misses wildly.

It’s rather embarrassing, a column in which he paints his paper as the last news source on a tireless quest for veracity, with a glaring error in a his big pot-shot moment.

Keller informs the Birthers:

(Sorry, birthers, but President Obama is an American citizen.)

Now, I’m no Birther and keep none as personal company. Maybe this distance from the belief obscures my view, but I feel 99% sure that most Birthers argue that Obama is unqualified for president because he’s, according to them, not a natural-born citizen. I don’t think his citizenship itself is called in to question by the majority of Birthers.

So Keller’s bold hammerblow on the noggins of Birthers turns out to be a statement with which many would agree. Awesome.

Is the New York Times one of the few sources for non-partisan factual reporting? I don’t know. I enjoy Times articles when I read them. Very detailed. Very thorough. Usually the articles that have compelled me to whip around links to friends via Facebook are Times articles. Too bad those days are now pay-walled. I’m a satisfied non-paying customer but have not and will not ever pay one subscription dime for their news. I don’t want their product at a price above free.

I decided to spot-check a random article and picked this one from A1: Unrest in Syria and Jordan Poses New Test for U.S. Policy.

The facts propping up the first four paragraphs are these: the Obama administration defends, among senior officials, several analysts said, administration officials said, [American officials] say. Four full paragraphs and only one of five ‘facts’ is verifiable (Obama administration says). How many officials, 2, 4, 10? Who? Which department? Lifers or new-bloods? We the reader don’t know. Anonymous sourcing at its finest.

The rest of the article, save for a few more quotes from anonymous sources, is just background and current events that can be found everywhere. I highly doubt that the Times itself uncovered any of the actual meat and potatoes verifiable facts in the article and simply relied on the wire.

I’m not anti-anonymous source. I get it. Getting people on-ish the record is one of the strengths of a still powerful organization like the Times. People will speak up for a chance to get their views before the Times masses. This has an obvious downside as sources may be motivated by self-advancement or just making someone else look bad.

In Keller’s eagerness to deride the gotcha! moments of O’Keefe, or the nothing is off-the-record mantra of Assange, he forgets that those two have something his organization doesn’t: On-the-record statements from those whose sole motivation is truth-telling. I’ll take one O’Keefe moment, or one Assange document over 10,000 ‘senior officials’.

Keller can keep propping up anonymity or self-serving quotes as hard truths; I’ll keep my dollars from the key hole of the pay wall.

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