Repairing Journalism

Plamegate made some major flaws transparent. Time for a transparent solution.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that the press seems to be grasping that it's in its own war, one that is important to the electorate. All the more reason for reporters to, among other steps, drop out of the race for personal celebrityhood and develop the willpower to resist competing with gossip or rumors that circulate breathlessly on the Internet if they can't be confirmed—even though it might look as if you've been scooped. Better to be scooped than to be embarrassed by writing junk.

Transparency is the overarching issue. And confronting the problem of anonymous sources, because they are anything but transparent, is a key. While in Indochina during the Vietnam War, after endless off-the-record briefings where half-truths and lies were told, I came to a new view of government disinformation. And this is it: When reporters agree with government officials not to disclose their identity, both sides are making a compact. Reporters are agreeing not to reveal who the sources are or even what government or agency they work for. And the sources, in return, are agreeing to tell reporters, yes, the truth.


See also:
  • Jarhead: Gulf War Frustration Meditation
    Film review by J. Hoberman

  • Parallel Folkies Grapple With the Times
    rock&roll& by Robert Christgau

  • The Death of the Dumb Blond
    Cover story by Michael Musto
  • What that meant to me was that if they told lies and I could demonstrate through solid reporting that they knew they had lied, then they had broken the compact and I was freed from my grant of confidentiality. And in one instance, in Cambodia, I concluded the compact had been broken and I wrote a story exposing the falsehoods. Not all my press colleagues agreed with my decision. One said that I should have told him and the other reporters at the briefing that I was going to write such a story. In retrospect, I think perhaps he was right. But my regrets are small, because it was my readers who had claim to my first loyalty.

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