To put that another way: “intelligence, diplomatic and military officials” saw themselves losing the internal debate, so they took their concerns to the press. That’s doesn’t necessarily disqualify their perspectives—it’s essentially what whistleblowers do—but the possibility that bureaucratic turf fights are affecting the analysis has to be taken into account.
3. Explain a source’s track record. When a source in a McClatchy story compares Obama now to Bush during the run-up to the Iraq war, it carries some extra weight, because McClatchy famously got that story right by listening to the right (anonymous) people. But are the sources on the Obama story the same sources? And if so, is there good reason to believe that, having been right the first time, they’re right again? The answer to both questions may be yes, but it’s not clear from the story.
4. Press sources to acknowledge and address discrepancies. In this case, it’s not just the conclusions reported by McClatchy and the Post that are at odds. Near the end of the McClatchy story comes this paragraph:
The intelligence assessments based their conclusions that the Taliban and related groups would back al Qaida’s global agenda on the fact that the Afghan insurgents not only continue to admire bin Laden and his Arab, Central Asian and other followers, but also are indebted to them for financial, military and technical assistance.
But just a few days earlier, one of the McClatchy reporters on this story wrote thison a McClatchy blog:
We know of course that the Taliban and al Qaida worked hand-in-hand in the run up to 9/11. But the relationship isn’t really so clear now. Back then, the Taliban turned to al Qaida for financial support, for example. Today the Taliban generates, by some estimates, as much as $400 million in annual revenue. Indeed, some believe the Taliban is now subsidizing al Qaida. So if Afghanistan fell to Taliban rule again, we know now they need al Qaida a lot less than they did eight years ago to survive.
That bit of news—validated by an official Treasury announcement this week—seems to, at the very least, complicate the perspective relayed in McClatchy’s story. Some of those fifteen unnamed officials might have a good explanation, but if so, we haven’t heard it.