So, who was the source of the New York Times' story on John McCain?
David Brooks guesses today that it was John Weaver, a former McCain aide who left on bad terms. Weaver, according to Brooks, claims it's somebody else. But Brooks says he checked the theory out:
"I checked that possibility out, and it doesn’t hold water. But while calling around to a dozen senior McCain friends and advisers Thursday, what struck me was the enormous tragedy of the rift. They all love McCain. They all say it is absurd to think he abused his power in the way that is alleged. But the rift is like some primal sore. It affected every conversation I had Thursday, as it has infected McCain efforts again and again over the past many years."
At least we know who it's not.
The situation, as you've heard, has put on the hot seat the Times' editors and the general policies of when to use anonymous sources.
Executive Editor Bill Keller went on All Things Considered last night to do some damage control.
"It's not a 'gotcha' story about some kind of quid pro quo," he says. "We don't know if there was a quid or a quo in this case. What we do know is that people very close to him, who watched him day after day, were worried enough by his behavior that they felt that he was endangering his career."
Keller says the Times was unable to prove there was a romantic relationship and so instead they approached the story from an angle that people close to him were concerned there was a romantic relationship. Oh. That's different? In other words, a guy who's "just sayin'" is a good enough story now?
Where have we heard of a place for this sort of stuff? The land of blogs, a place Keller visited last year in a speech in London that ripped on that method of "journalism," and distinguished why the Times is different.
"We believe in a journalism of verification rather than assertion, meaning we put a higher premium on accuracy than on speed or sensation. When we report information, we look hard to see if it stands up to scrutiny."
and more to the point...
"We believe in transparency - that is, we aim to tell you how we know what we know, to attribute our information as much as possible to named sources, to rely on documentary evidence when we can. When we need to protect our sources, which is often necessary to bring you information powerful people don't want you to know, we should explain why we regard the information as credible, and whether the source has an axe to grind. As my math teacher used to say, we show our work."
If Brooks is right, the Times source was a person "with an axe to grind." The story never so indicated, putting Keller in a position that is akin to saying, "just trust us."
Jay Rosen at Press Think is nervous. And when journalists are nervous about journalism, that's a bad sign:
... when I read the story I expected… more. Any report alleging a damaging affair by a current presidential candidate needs to be air tight and locked down, especially when the events in it date from two election cycles ago. But for this purpose the Times has only anonymous sources; that makes me nervous. While any story like this says to readers, “trust us, we’re the New York Times,” this one puts the Times reputation more completely on the line because there is virtually nothing else for us to trust than the rectitude of the people running the paper. For, 'Convinced the relationship had become romantic…' there is nothing we can check, no one we can ask, no digging we can do. ... But watch for Clark Hoyt’s next ombudsman column. I would not be surprised at all if he comes out with a verdict esssentially saying: you didn’t have it."
Another concerned journalist is David McCumber, the editor at the Seattle Post Intelligencer. His paper took a pass on the story...
This story seems to me not to pass the smell test. It makes the innuendo of impropriety, even corruption, without backing it up. I was taught that before you run something in the newspaper that could ruin somebody's reputation, you'd better have your facts very straight indeed.
"Nailed" would be one way to describe that.
The Washington Post ran its own story a few hours later. It was less contorted and easier to follow. Still based on some anonymous sourcing. It did bother me a little today when Len Downie, like Keller an outstanding editor, said The New York Times story "helped" them get their sources to confirm certain things and enable them to run their story. That seemed a little co-dependent in terms of sourcing.
Others will point out that the story wasn't about an affair, per se. It was about the perception of ethical lapses; a claim that simply has to be accompanied by a wink.
The timing for our group session on ethics in online journalism couldn't be better.(1 Comments)
Posted at 11:14 AM on February 22, 2008
by Bob Collins
As I posted downstream, Microsoft is embracing the idea of "open source," in which it collaborates with developers who might build interesting components once the company throws open the secrets behind how some of its programs work.
Q: Is this a big deal?
Not necessarily, because as the European Union has pursued several actions against Microsoft for competitive issues, Microsoft has sort of promised to become "interoperable" ... at least four times in the past. So the EU, as well as several open source advocates are saying, 'well, Microsoft, you certainly promised to become this way in the past but, 'show us the beef,' so if they do what they say they're going to do rather than just promise it, then it could be a big deal.
Q: What would be the net effect of that sort of thing?
"Open source" means usually that the software is free. Any software developer can get his or her hands on the code and make it better. It's a collaborative software development scheme. So you take a software program like Thunderbird and an enterprise.... could use Thunderbird instead of Microsoft Outlook when they're the Microsoft Exchange Server.
So a big company would use the Microsoft Exchange Server for e-mailing, or calendaring, for contacts and things like that, and pretty much Microsoft Outlook is the program that sits on peoples' desktops to use the Exchange Server. Maybe now they could use an open source program like Thunderbird.
One of the technical guys at Microsoft also had a couple of other examples when this was announced. An example that Ray Ozzie had was, say you have a program that could tap into a doctor's schedule that is kept online somewhere. That program could tap into your calendar information in Outlook and schedule appointments for you at the doctor's office.
So we're talking about programs that offer some value to Microsoft programs and Microsoft programs have not been very interoperable in the past. They haven't shared the code like Google has, for example, to allow other functions or other programs to work along with other Microsoft programs. Those are the kind of things that you might see if Microsoft sort of shares its codes for real.
I think that's exactly right. It's not too late. Microsoft could certainly commit to the open source movement in a positive way. And why are they making this move? Part of it is that open source software has been around for awhile and it's been successful and Microsoft could believe that open source software, the rising use of it in business and government, is sort of forcing its hand.
Also keep in mind that the deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, in which Microsoft is trying to take over Yahoo, could draw new takeover scrutiny as well, and this could be an attempt to blunt future criticism of the company.
And finally, Microsoft is trying to win approval from the ISO, which is the international standards setting body, for their Office Open format, which is like a document format. And a lot of government contracts that require software to have a more open standard depend on that open standard, and so Microsoft could see a lot of big government contracts hanging in the balance.
Q: But this "openness" thing... it's not exactly Microsoft's culture. They'll have to teach their managers how to think in a different way.
I think this comes from the top down. I really think it's a Steve Ballmer-Bill Gates thing. Microsoft has shown it can sort of turn on a dime when it wants to. Look at the focus on security with Microsoft Vista. Say what you will about Vista, it certainly has proven to be a much more secure operating system than previous versions of Windows, and Microsoft showed a big commitment to improving that area, and that certainly has not been Microsoft's culture in the past.
I'm sure it would be a change to start thinking all "crunchy and granola" and open source for Microsoft, and I don't think they're going to go that far. But I think they have shown they can commit to an idea that is radically different from the way they behaved in the past.
Record companies have found it almost impossible to control the distribution of music. The Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis is trying to tighten control of its news.
Local Associated Press boss Dave Pyle confirms that starting on Monday, the Star Tribune will restrict the use of AP stories that are rewritten from the Minneapolis newspaper. Currently, media organizations pay the Associated Press -- a news cooperative -- to use the stories of other news organizations. In exchange, the media organizations make their stories available, via AP, to other news sources. MPR is a member of the cooperative.
Starting Monday, no AP member broadcast news outlet within 30 miles of Minneapolis will be permitted to use Star Tribune material.
Pyle believes it's an issue that springs primarily from the ability of Web sites owned by traditional media companies to use Star Tribune content.
It's not a policy without risk, however. Although the Star Tribune clearly is the dominant news provider in the Twin Cities, there is value to the viral nature of distributing content based on Star Tribune reporting.
Similarly, if other stations and news outlets follow suit, and retaliate by prohibiting the use of their news content, it becomes more difficult for any news outlet to fill its pages at a time when original reporting staffs are being cut.
Can news organizations put a cork in the news bottle and control the distribution of their content in the digital age? Perhaps we should ask the record companies.
Posted at 6:03 PM on February 22, 2008
by Bob Collins
Yes, I know, technically it's two words, but it appears in Webster's which makes it a legitimate destination for the news finger.
And so take a trip around news stories surrounding ghost town
In Austin, Minn., says a writer for the Rochester Post Bulletin, Oak Park "is becoming a ghost town." The mall moved businesses out of the downtown, he says, and then big box retailers moved businesses out of the mall; the retail circle of life that's repeated in many communities.
In Pine Island, Minn., the city's population will grow by 5 times its current number if Elk Run is approved. The development along Highway 52 would include a biobusiness park, housing, stores and a healthy-living campus, school buildings, a sports complex, an amphitheater and a hotel. "I'm scared it's going to make our town die," said Carl Krause, owner of CJ Auto Sales, invoking the... well... you know. (Rochester Post Bulletin)
Gamers, a ghost town map has been unveiled for Halo 3.
In Somerville, Mass., "Ghost Town Planet" has opened at an art gallery. Artists envision the earth in a "transformation period" (as if we don't know what that means). Pictures here.
Rolling Stone has just posted The Myth of the Surge. "Devastated by five years of clashes between American forces, Shiite militias, Sunni resistance groups and Al Qaeda, much of Dora is now a ghost town. This is what victory looks like in a once upscale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets," it says.
Time Magazine reports today the Ark of the Covenant is nowhere near Egypt. A real-life Indiana Jones says he's traced it to a dusty museum shelf in Zimbabwe, by way of a ghost town in Egypt.