Starting today and every Friday, we will be excerpting some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we receive each week, in a new feature aptly titled ‘Comments of the Week.’ Think we’ve missed something? Well…comment!

Straight from the Source

Greg Marx’s “When is News Fit to Print?”, about questionable sourcing employed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a story following up on the Fort Hood shootings, drew a response from the source-in-question himself, novelist Kamran Pasha. A heated debate ensued between Pasha and commenter James:

“[Star-Telegram reporter] Mr. Shlachter weighed my credentials as well as the content of what I reported and decided to make the broader public aware of my perspective, with specific caveats about his inability to confirm all aspects of my account. And I would have done the same. I hope that as the profession of journalism continues to evolve in a world of rapid technological change and new media connectivity, reporters will not lose the ability to trust their gut instincts to keep the public informed.”
Kamran Pasha

“With all due respect, Mr/Ms. Pasha, as a news consumer I don’t want reporters to ‘trust their gut instincts to keep the public informed.’ I want them to meet basic professional standards with respect to their sources and confirming a story and disclosure. I want them to give me, the audience, an opportunity to judge the veracity of the account myself.

“The reporter may have weighed YOUR credibility, which he did not share with his readers, but how can he weigh the credibility of your source third-hand? He cannot, can he?”

“I must fundamentally disagree with your position. If you do not believe that reporters use information that they cannot corroborate personally, then you are unaware of how journalism actually works. As others have pointed out here, investigative journalists such as Seymour Hersh have made an entire career around such reportage. The reason they are respected and not treated as gossip-mongers is that they are seen has having good judgment and an excellent track record with regard to the sources they trust….I broke the news of the relationship between Dr. Hasan and radical imam Al-Awlaki. I revealed Hasan’s anti-Semitism, comments he appeared to make only to other Muslims who he thought were sympathetic. And his support for the Taliban and suicide bombers is all relevant to his motivations. If this information is not considered news, then I don’t know what is.”
—Kamran Pasha

Pasha then continued to provide additional information about his sourcing, to which James responded:

“I very much appreciate this discussion, and thank you for coming forward with clarification about your source….[It] lends more credibility to what your source told you, and to you personally. This kind of information about the source and his motivation for speaking to you, and your personal assessment of his credibility, is exactly the point I am making. Had the reporter included some of that information to the reader, it would have been helpful initially in assessing the validity of the story. The reader of the Star-Telegram piece was not given the opportunity to read your blog post, but was expected to accept third-hand sourcing.

“I think we are making the same point in different ways: I wish more journalists had used their “gut instincts” during the buildup to the Iraq War, rather than serve as stenographers for politicians. … It is a tragedy for all of us that they chose to follow the flock and swallow other people’s opinions about what constituted proper journalism.

Meanwhile, one straight-talking reader had the guts to say what the rest of us have long been thinking:

“Mr Greg Marx - you are pathetic - more to be pitied than despised.” —Simon

Laying Odds

A Helping Hand”, our editorial for the November/December 2009 issue, provoked a host of comments about defining journalistic accountability as well as societal impediments to it. This reader offered a theoretical summary of both, though with a tad more cynicism than we typically employ:

“So, the problem isn’t whether or not to save ‘accountability journalism’ because even if you do, there’s no audience, at least on scale, to make it matter.

“Therefore, the problem is one of two things in order to garner public interest;

“1) Schools that teach critical thinking, inquiry and research, along with an analytical approach to teaching history and current events that connects dots.

“2) Developing the campaigns that will convert our plebiscite into interested, engaged, critically thinking stakeholders.

“Who wants to bet neither of those EVER happens in our lifetime? I’m giving 7 to 1 against.”

Battle Royale

Sara Germano is an intern at CJR.