Monday :: Apr 3, 2006

Attribution for Stories - and the recent Raw Story incidents

by eriposte

In the past few weeks, some news reports in establishment media outlets featured information previously reported by progressive blogs or progressive media outlets. In some cases though, the establishment media reports specifically chose to not mention the blog or the progressive media outlet that originally reported the story. In particular, two prior articles by Raw Story (authors: Larisa Alexandrovna, John Byrne and/or Jason Leopold) were unacceptably left unattributed by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Associated Press (AP), respectively. [NOTE: See BradBlog's Brad Friedman's post and E&P op-ed on this same topic that I discovered shortly before publishing this post. Brad is one of the top bloggers on voting machine related issues who has published many original and investigative pieces on voting issues and it appears he has also had some challenges with lack of attribution of his work].

On 1/3/06, Jason Leopold wrote an important piece at Raw Story describing how information from Emily Miller, the "jilted fiancee" of former Delay aide Michael Scanlon, was one of the main factors behind the Justice Department's success in roping in Scanlon for his criminal actions, which in turn led to Scanlon's guilty plea. On 3/31/06, the WSJ's Brody Mullins wrote a piece that basically reported the same thing (with some additional minor details), without mentioning that Raw Story had reported this earlier. [Note: I have been in email contact with Jason off and on over the past couple of months to discuss some aspects of his reporting on the Plame matter and the domestic spying issue. Jason's comments on the WSJ's lack of attribution of his prior work are captured at Talk Left].

On 3/13/06, Larisa Alexandrovna, along with John Byrne, came out with a Raw Story report that said "National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley quietly revised the guidelines for determining access to classified government information last year, increasing emphasis on allegiance to the United States and allowing the government broader latitude in rejecting candidates without a clearly articulated cause". The article also went on to point out that "The 2005 guidelines also allow the government greater ability to use sexual orientation against applicants." As Larisa explained at The Huffington Post, the AP and its reporter Katherine Shrader basically reported the same thing subsequently and refused to credit Raw Story as the original source of the information, even though they appear to have become aware of the issue through the Raw Story piece. When challenged, AP provided a completely untenable and nonsensical explanation. [Note: A quick thanks to Larisa for mentioning my Niger forgeries research in her post].

There's another, possibly related aspect that I want to mention here - the criticism of the credibility of the reporting of Jason Leopold and Raw Story.

For example, on 2/24/06, Jason Leopold reported that "The White House turned over last week 250 pages of emails from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office...Sources close to the probe said the White House “discovered” the emails two weeks ago and turned them over to Fitzgerald last week." This report was initially met with (borderline) sarcasm in some circles (here's one example - although it's not my intention to pick on A.L., whom I regard highly, especially considering he published an honest correction), but as it turned out Toni Locy at the AP reported something very similar on the same day: "The defense was told that the White House had recently located and turned over about 250 pages of e-mails from the vice president's office." In this case, since both articles were published on the same day, I am not implying any lack of attribution. Leopold and Locy could very well have gotten this story independently. The issue here is that Leopold's reporting was questioned because the story he published seemed too hard to believe (for some).

No doubt, it is interesting that for a relatively new and fledgling operation, Raw Story has been able to cultivate the kind of deep contacts and sources that have enabled them to publish some major stories. In the case of Jason Leopold, there seems to be additional skepticism because of a controversial incident from his past (which is apparently recounted candidly in his upcoming book News Junkie). However, Leopold's ability to cultivate deep sources is not entirely surprising since he has a prior history of good journalism and was once the Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires (part of the WSJ). Yet, because of the White controversy, some people doubt his credibility today.

Let's be fair. The conservative-leaning establishment media (I'm talking about their news reporting) in the United States - which includes the New York Times and the Washington Post, among many others - have a strong history of supporting actual journalistic malpractice, while simultaneously featuring good journalism in parallel. If the standards that are being applied to Leopold or Raw Story were to be extended to the establishment media, then we would have to stop reading, hearing or seeing anything from the latter. Unlike the many "leading lights" in the establishment media who are paid well and supported even as they indulge in (often uncorrected) journalistic malpractice, Leopold and Raw Story have also been fairly forthright about admitting errors. Indeed, Raw Story also allows readers to comment at the bottom of their stories - which most establishment media outlets don't allow today. In my book, people who are always honest and ethical obviously get the most respect, but when you err, if you are honest and admit error and if you allow critics on your own website, you get more credibility than those who are neither honest nor admit their errors. Moreover, as I discussed at the top of this post, it is not uncommon for the establishment media to recycle stories reported in progressive media or blogs without attribution - which is a reflection of low journalistic standards. For all these reasons, Leopold and Raw Story deserve the benefit of doubt as long as they make accuracy a key goal of their reporting and as long as their reporting meets or (ideally) beats the (relatively low) standards set by the establishment media. In fact, if you read the New York Times - a paper whose credibility is largely non-existent after their support for journalistic malpractice on Whitewater and the Clintons, the Wen Ho Lee matter, Al Gore, pre-Iraq-war intel and their long-time coddling of the completely unprofessional and dishonest GOP hack Judith Miller - then you should be giving Raw Story much more than benefit of doubt.

Let me also point out that John Byrne published a lengthy article on Raw Story late last year about the credibility of Raw Story's reporting. I am reproducing a part of Byrne's article - which discusses some key stories - with my comments added in []:

Confirmed reports

We reported Oct. 18 [Larisa Alexandrovna and Jason Leopold] and Oct. 19 [Jason Leopold and Larisa Alexandrovna] that Cheney advisers John Hannah and David Wurmser had a role in disseminating information about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Days later, the New York Daily News reported that "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is combing over testimony by John Hannah and David Wurmser, national security aides to Vice President Cheney who sources questioned under oath say may be the key to the probe." The New York Times also listed Hannah, mysteriously, at the end of one of their leak articles, saying that he had been interviewed in the case. In 2004, United Press International, citing FBI sources, reported that Hannah was a target in the case and that he was suspected of being a leaker.

We were the first to report on Oct. 12 [Jason Leopold] that Vice President Dick Cheney was under close scrutiny in the leak investigation, and that Fitzgerald was trying to determine whether Cheney had a role in the CIA outing. This was confirmed by the New York Times Oct. 24, when they revealed that Cheney had been one of Libby's sources (An important note: The New York Times erred in this piece. They alleged that Libby "first learned" of Plame's identity from Cheney. This is untrue: the indictment indicates an individual tied to the CIA was the first to tell Libby of Plame's identity).

We reported [Jason Leopold and John Byrne] that Rove was facing likely indictment. This was confirmed by the Washington Post, the New York Times and various other news outlets. Rove was facing indictment, but Fitzgerald opted not to indict him after a last-minute move by Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. We reported that Luskin was offered a plea deal on Tuesday by Fitzgerald, which was also confirmed.

We reported that the Washington Post's Jim Vandehei told Hardball that law enforcement agents interviewed Valerie Plame's neighbors to see if they were aware of her CIA status. This was confirmed. We later reported they were interviewed in an attempt to convince a skeptical grand jury that White House officials may have violated a law criminalizing the outing of CIA agents, and that the jury was unlikely to accept such a charge. This was true; no charge was made in the indictment.

We reported that Rove was "Official A" in the Libby indictment. This was confirmed.

We reported [Jason Leopold] that Fitzgerald had secured a single indictment before his announcement Friday, the first news agency to signal Rove might elude indictment.

We reported that Libby was indicted before Fitzgerald's official announcement - the first news agency to report the indictment. This was confirmed.

We reported [Jason Leopold] that Vice President Cheney had lied in his public statements about not knowing about the leak. This was confirmed.

We reported [Jason Leopold] that the CIA leak investigation would not end with Libby's indictment, despite the fact that before the indictments some news agencies indicated it would. This was confirmed.

We revealed [Larisa Alexandrovna] in an interview with Joseph Wilson that he believed there was a larger administration role in the CIA leak case. It was later revealed that Cheney had played a role in providing information to Libby about Plame. This was confirmed.

We reported [Jason Leopold] that uproar over Judith Miller, who was placed in jail for more than 80 days in connection with the case, had caused an uproar in the New York Times newsroom with numerous reporters questioning publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Executive Editor Bill Keller. This was reported that there was a sense of unease at the Times newsroom over Miller's role in the CIA leak scandal. This was confirmed also in the New Yorker piece, and in a piece in Vanity Fair.

[...additional stories in original article...]

Reports confirmed abroad

We reported that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was the source for Bob Woodward at the Washington Post as regards information about Valerie Plame Wilson. Hadley has not denied that he was the source; his aides have. Besides Bush and Cheney, he is the only current senior administration official who did not deny being Woodward's source by name or through a named spokesperson. Richard Armitage, a former deputy to Colin Powell, has also declined to comment. The story was confirmed by the London Sunday Times. It has not been reported by a major news organization in the United States.

Unconfirmed reports

We reported [Jason Leopold and Larisa Alexandrovna] that Susan Ralston, a special assistant to Karl Rove, was told not to log a call placed by Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who spoke to Rove about Valerie Plame Wilson. We also reported that Ralston was called back to testify a second time. This report remains in question. An attorney for Ralston told a reporter that Ralston did not in fact testify a second time, and did not say anything about not logging a call. Raw Story is currently trying to reach Ralston's attorney.

We reported [Jason Leopold and John Byrne] that two other officials faced indictment other than Rove or Libby which did not transpire. It remains unclear, however, if these officials made late deals with Fitzgerald, as Rove did.

We reported [Larisa Alexandrovna and Jason Leopold] that Hannah and Wurmser had been given directives to spread information about Valerie Plame Wilson. This information has not been confirmed. Hannah's attorney Thomas Green told NEWSWEEK his client "knew nothing" about the leak. In an effort to correct the record, or at least allow Hannah's attorney to present his side of the story, Raw Story has sought to contact Green without success.

Here's what I think based on this track record. Raw Story seems to have good sources and sources that are sometimes wrong. This is really not very different than the case of the New York Times or the Washington Post or any establishment media outlet. The bottom line is that we should take every story by every legitimate media outlet (Raw Story included) seriously, and with skepticism, and make sure they all show a commitment to reporting facts. There's no reason to single out Raw Story or its reporters for special criticism.

At the same time, original reporting or findings published in blogs or sites like Raw Story should be acknowledged by the establishment media if and when they confirm and write about those stories. Brad Friedman succinctly explains why (emphasis mine):

While I'm very happy to see MSM outlets bring stories to a wider audience, I don't seek personal credit for myself or my site simply. The reason it's important -- aside from being polite and appropriate and professional (and we always do the same for them) -- is because their recognition of the credibility of our work from yesterday lends credibility to our important future stories.

Like editors at other Internet-only news sites, I've seen many articles of great importance simply ignored by the MSM and even many corners of the blogosphere. It's very easy, therefore, for others to simply dismiss our other work, no matter how groundbreaking and well-sourced, as "insignificant" under the notion that "if it was actually important or credible it would be reported by the mainstream media." I hear that quite a bit.

Yet when it is reported later by the MSM--sometimes days, weeks, months and now even years later-- they feel they needn't mention where those stories originated.


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