This ABC News-bentonite story that Glenn Greenwald has been all over at Salon raises so many Big Questions For Journalism (some of which we will get into as the week progresses). Kevin Drum asks a few:
What should the standard be? In practice, most journalists refuse to identify their sources under any circumstances at all, even when it’s clear that those sources deliberately lied to them. But should that be the standard? Or is the profession — and the rest of us — better off if sources know that they run the risk of being unmasked if their mendacity is egregious enough to become newsworthy in its own right? I’d say the latter.
In ABC News’s case, what point does it serve to out these people? Would it be instructive/cautionary to future lying sources, as Drum suggests? Is it just vengeance? What might be gained and lost if journalists in general adopted a you lie to me, I out you sort of ground rule? Would we get fewer leaks but leaks of higher quality? Missed stories? What if ABC News’s sources didn’t knowingly lie? If ABC News outs its sources in the face of public outrage (or, at least blogospheric outrage), what precedent does that set?
Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor have come up with “three vital questions” for ABC News. In discussing them, Rosen writes: “But the only way that system can work is when sources know: if you lie, or mislead the reporter into a false report you will be exposed. People who believe strongly in the need for confidential sources should be strongly in favor of their exposure in clear cases of abuse, because that is the only way a practice like this has a prayer of retaining its legitimacy.” Is he right?
To be continued…
Liz Cox Barrett is a freelance writer and graphic designer in Kalispell, Montana. She worked as a newspaper journalist in Denver and Kalispell for 20 years.