Reporting the truth: Say what?

The BBC’s John Simpson titled this article ‘Reporting the truth’. Given the content, I can’t figure out why.

In short, it seems John Simpson is saying, it is perfectly permissible for the media to print and reprint single source, unverified stories that are inflammatory in nature. And if they are believed by the public then it is the responsibility of the authorities in question to create an environment where such stories could not be believed.

In most schools of journalism that is the very definition of irresponsible reporting. Single, anonymous sources quoting materials unobtainable by the reporter are called leads. Responsible journalism involves expending the time and effort to research the lead to find corroborating evidence, information or material. Newsweek openly admits that it based its statement on a single source and did not verify or corroborate the information provided by that source. When the source back peddled, the Newsweek was forced to admit that it could neither confirm or deny that the incidents took place. John Simpson states that Newsweek’s editor seems to have been taken by surprise by the violent reaction to the story. If that is the case, Newsweek’s editors have been living under rocks or in caves for the past three years.

John Simpson’s logic then seems to be that because of previous events there is an environment in which the story published by Newsweek is believable. Therefore, Newsweek is not to blame but rather authorities and society at large are to blame for creating an environment in which such a story is believable.

Hogwash, all of it.

Where atrocities are occurring they need to be rooted out, corrected, and the responsible parties held accountable as is happening now in the case of Abu Ghaib. However, that does not in any way relieve news agencies of the responsibility to properly research and verify their stories before they publish. Proper research, corroboration and verification of the stories it prints is the only delineation between respectable news agencies and the likes of The National Enquirer.


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