2007-07-12 / Sam Bari

He said, she said, they said

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Since we live in an age where accountability is allegedly mandatory, I must say that the media icons are the biggest offenders of not making people they quote accountable, and that disturbs me. The following phrases from the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News, CNN, and the Associated Press are cause for concern:

"The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press." - NY Times

"White House officials fear that . . . " - NY Times

" . . . according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting . . ." - NY Times

". . . said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record . . . " - NY Times.

"The Washington Post, citing unidentified sources, reported Sunday that . . . " - CBS News

" . . . near a crowded bus station in central Baghdad at about 8:30 a.m. Monday, the official said." - CNN

"Congressional Democrats returning from their Independence Day break are ready for battle with. . . ." - Associated Press on CNN

Anything could be written in front of or behind all of the aforementioned phrases and nobody would be held responsible. Powerful media giants like the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post etc., could, and very well might, use these tactics to influence political sway, or worse.

For instance, a newspaper having differences with the chief of police of any city could use the first sentence and write something like: "Police officials report that the chief of police was found in his office on several occasions dancing the tango with his secretary while dressed in a bear costume. 'The police officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press'." I believe running an article like that at a strategic time could cause the average voter pause before considering the incumbent chief for re-election. Now - how would the chief of police prove that it didn't happen?

How well do you think the public would receive the following sentence if the second phrase from above were used to open the sentence? "'White House officials fear that captive aliens at Roswell, New Mexico, have contacted home for reinforcements to assure their release and to expose the government for keeping their captivity a secret." Every tabloid on the face of the earth would pounce on that tasty little news tidbit.

Let's try the third phrase in an interesting sentence. "The president must stop staring into a crystal ball to make administrative decisions 'according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting'."

Now let's paraphrase the last two phrases by CBS News and CNN and combine them into one sentence. "'The Washington Post, citing unidentified sources, reported Sunday that the secretary of defense was found crawling on his hands and knees while howling at an imaginary moon near a crowded bus station in central Baghdad at 8:30 a.m., the official said'." Who is the official who allegedly said that? We would never know.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. None of the above could possibly be traced to a real source. The media giants could take advantage of an assumed credible past and use it to their advantage by reporting biased news and even borderline slander.

I am happy to write for small town newspapers. Like most local publications, all reporting must be attributed to a source, especially the quotes. If a person says something, their name goes on it. If they don't want to be quoted, then they shouldn't say anything - as it should be.

I am not so naive that I don't realize that attaching one's name to sensitive issues could be a dangerous practice. However, when news is reported and appears to be less than credible, it stands to reason that the newspaper and the source should be held accountable.

The ongoing irresponsibility of the media is definitely part of that system we can't understand.

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