“Some Say,” Some Said

“Some say,” some said.

I’ve been thinking about the clip I posted this morning with The Mooch using Trump as his anonymous source and then under moderate pressure from Jake Tapper he admitted that his source was indeed The Russian Usurper. Good work, Mooch.

I don’t often link to 538 often. As a pundit goes, Nate Silver is kinda meh, and while data is important it doesn’t always tell the whole story.

So that said, this bit on 538, 5 tips for reading stories with unnamed sources redeems his blog and is spot-on. I often call out Politico because their habit of using unsourced material (and often only 1 source) makes me nuts, so I hope that they pay attention to this.

I’ll cut to the chase and give the 5-tips without the supporting verbiage, but you should read it if you have questions:

  1. A story that says “Six White House officials have confirmed …” is pretty trustworthy; when you have multiple sources confirming the same story, you can trust that whatever the story is, it is pretty solid. Also/too: it means that the reporter knows what he is doing.
  2. Stories about what happened are more reliable than stories that predict what might happen. What might happen is punditry. What did happen is journalism.
  3. The more specific, the better. So, when the unnamed sources can be revealed as “Six Justice Dept. sources” that is a level of specificity (especially if the story requires that department, d’uh).
  4. If the outlet and reporter have a strong track record of scoops that become verified as true, that adds a lot of believability. Journalists really do have sources. If a source burns a reporter, that source will not be considered credible and the reporter will not trust them in the future. Or as my grandfather used to say, “Alway bet on the Jocky, not on the horse.”
  5. A vague non-denial denial by a named source strengthens the case made by the anonymous source. This one is sort of tricky, so here’s what 538 says:

Another thing to make you trust a story: When an official spokesperson offers a “denial” that really isn’t a denial. Remember when the Post published a story in May, vaguely attributed to “current and former U.S. officials,” suggesting that Trump had disclosed “highly classified information” in a meeting with Russian officials? Responding to the story, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told the paper, “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.” But the story had not actually claimed that the president had disclosed sources, methods or operations — only information, which McMaster did not deny. (Trump essentially confirmed that he had disclosed the information soon after the story ran.)

“If the person implicated in the report is unable to outright deny it, that’s a sign it can be trusted, even if the sources are anonymous,” Fallon said.

Anyway, it’s all good media analysis. I think we need to keep an eye out for this (especially #5) as we get deeper into the Little Kremlin on the Potomac. The leaks are already amazing, but they are going to become the stuff of legends as this Administration goes down (and I do believe it is already falling).

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One Response to “Some Say,” Some Said

  1. Ellis Weiner says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is how journos will conceal the gender of a source by constantly avoiding pronouns. “The highly-placed Joint Chiefs of Staff official said that, when General Putz mentioned the action to the highly-placed Joint Chiefs of Staff official, the highly-placed Joint Chiefs of Staff official expressed skepticism. The General replied to the highly-placed Joint Chiefs of Staff official that,” etc.


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