Anatomy Of A Modern Day Newspaper Story By The Repeaters

IMG_4019Read this article in the Boston Globe that was filed yesterday.

First look at the picture that is accompanying it. It shows a guy called a “member of an FBI evidence recovery team” with a camera behind yellow police tape taking pictures of the outside of the apartment building where Ibragim Todashev was killed by an FBI agent. The killing took place inside the apartment and the guy is taking pictures of the outside. Go figure! How the hell is that of any importance?

Next the article says it has information on what happened from “[t]wo law enforcement officials.”  Then we have information from one law enforcement official whoasked not to be named because the official was not ­authorized to discuss the case.” Did the other make the same request?

How is it we’re supposed to believe people who won’t be identified?  We’ve already seen what the Globe’s “unidentified officals” reported before. They told us that the Marthon Terrorist Attack bombers were under arrest the day before they were identified.

What is the information that we now are supposed to believe? First, the sources prove themselves quite unreliable because the article starts out saying the Boston FBI agent “fired the shot, or shots” that killed Todashev.  How much faith can we put in these people who are giving out inside information if they don’t know if more than one shot was fired? Shots make noise; cops usually can count more than up to one; why don’t these people know how many times the noise of a gun firing was heard.

I’m already disbelieving the sources but they go on to say Todashev was killed “early Wednesday morning during an interview about an unsolved Waltham homicide.”  I thought the FBI said they were interviewing him about the terrorist attack. Now it’s back to the Waltham homicide. Since when do FBI agents participate in state homicide investigations? And what does early Wednesday morning mean. Can’t we learn when the interview started (some say at 7:30, others 8 ish and others after midnight) and at what time it happened that Todashev was gunned down on Wednesday morning, be it 12:30 or 5:30?

What’s wrong with these Globe reporters that they write a story that is so empty of real facts. They seem less like reporters than mere repeaters. They just passing on things they have been fed. Don’t they know how to ask these “law enforcement officials” questions?

The new information here is that the killing took place in the kitchen. Todashev overturned a table “and attacked the agent with a blade.”  What is a blade?  Is it something different from a knife? We are told the agent “felt he was in grave danger” and fired in self-defense. How can he be in grave danger with at least a half-dozen other cops in the place? Can’t you fire at a guys legs and knock him down if he has a knife?  Where was Todasheve hit? We’re told elsewhere that an autopsy will be done at some time but the results will not be released for a long while? Why?

Then note the cute twist in the article. We go from what these unknown people tell us to what the Globe has reported. The repeaters write that the Globe has previously told us Todashev confessed to murdering three people in Waltham. We’re not told where the Globe got this information. This is so even though it is doubtful that Todashev’s friend Tamerlan was involved in the murders since they appeared to be drug related. If Tamerlan and Todashev were involved, being Chechens scraping by for a living, they certainly would not have left all the money there. Big time drug dealers would.

These unsourced statements – statements attributed of officials (what’s an official) who won’t be identified – have shown themselves to be worthless time after time yet the repeaters go on printing them. And more sadly, the public seems to buy it.

 

 

6 thoughts on “Anatomy Of A Modern Day Newspaper Story By The Repeaters

  1. Dear Matt,

    In reply to your query concerning “How is it we’re supposed to believe people who aren’t identified,” I submit the following for consideration. This is not a new question, yet it remains novel with respect to how its application continues to change to new situations. Your invocation here illustrates this exactly. One discussion dates back to the O.J. Simpson trial period, as reprinted in the American Journalism Review. See Alicia C. Shepard, “Anonymous Sources,” AJR, December 1994, http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=1596. Another poignant discussion in the form of a Q&A rears its head in New York Magazine. See Kurt Andersen, “Welcome to the Sausage Factory,” NY Magazine, June 20, 2005, http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/columns/imperialcity/12025/index1.html. The issue was also discussed and some preconceived notions thrown into the forum for open critique by The New York Times a few years later. See Jill Abramson, “Talk to the Newsroom: The Use of Anonymous Sources,” N.Y. Times, June 9, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/business/media/09askthetimes.html. PBS Frontline included a bevy of commentators on this issue including Carl Bernstein, all of whom spoke out in support of anonymous sources. PBS, “Why Reporters Need Confidential Sources,” February 13, 2007, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/newswar/tags/confidentialsources.html.

    On the other hand, it is also generally conceded that “…Most papers strive to reduce the use of anonymous sources because it can dilute the credibility of the paper.” See Jessica Mathews, “Using Anonymous Sources,” The Scranton Times-Tribune, April 11, 2013, http://blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/editorsnote/index.php/2013/04/11/using-anonymous-sources/. Michael Kinsley, a former editor of The Los Angeles Times, also wrote about how the utilization of anonymous sources serves a higher purpose beyond a news media’s “fact” reporting; he grandly opines that “Journalism is about betrayal…” See Michael Kinsley, “Journalism and the Art of Betrayal,” The Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/nov/04/opinion/la-oe-kinsley-column-anonymous-sources-20111104.

    Finally, there is an in-depth exposition on this topic available from Salon.com, which indicates that while anonymity has its uses, that it must be used sparingly, at the risk of jeopardizing all credibility. See Glenn Greenwald, “Why Do Journalists Expect to Have Credibility?,” Salon.com, March 7, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/03/07/anonymity_7/. Apparently, USA Today is a forerunner in the War Against Anonymity (WAA), as its founder proclaimed that such sources are “the root of all evil in journalism.” See Don Ohlmeyer, “Root of All Evil,” ESPN, http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=ohlmeyer_don&id=5220492. Yet, without anonymity, would the populace be deprived of critical information worthy of dissemination, for the public interest? When does the public interest in information outweigh also the public interest in knowing its source? Should the latter be sacrificed in the name of the former, or should one not spring forth without the other? These are lofty questions, indeed. You have asked this same question, Matt, both today, and often on prior days. Yet, where do we find the answer?

    Perhaps we may derive a larger question of, is the value of the anonymously procured information justified? Then perhaps we may set a standard for what exactly would warrant justification. I would assume it would be agreed that in the case of Watergate, that the preservation of Deepthroat’s identity was justified — wasn’t it? Does every episode of justifiable anonymity lift to the level of the highest levels of American government? Or should it rely more towards the frequency of use, rather than the substance of the information? Should it be a combination of these factors?

    Here, I have attempted to set forth a greater context in answer to your question, Matt. I have attempted to illustrate some of the many replies which have been uttered over the years to your essential question; yet I also posit that anonymous sources should not always be subject to strict and prompt dismissal. I invoke those timeless lyrics from The Byrds which remind us “To Everything…/There is a season…/A time to plant, a time to reap…” To balance the planting of lies, we shall also reap the truth — all in good time.

    While the public should not buy news as outright truth, it should not dismiss what is read as lies, either. It is our duty to be informed, but to achieve that, each of us must be the ones to make the conclusions, rather than being spoon-fed, or worse, force-fed. Such “unsourced statements” have been wrong at times, but there are other instances in which they have been right. Does the aggregate cost of the wrong information, outweigh the benefits of those which have been right?

    As we consider whether anonymous sources be completely banned, because the public has a right to know not only what is being reported, but also who said it, could this have a chilling effect upon the public’s access to information, because sources will be reluctant to speak out in fear of retaliatory actions, particularly in the more recent case of Stephen Kim and Fox News reporter James Rosen, or the prosecutions involving Wikileaks, or the current pending investigation into who leaked the notebook to the news revolving around the Aurora movie theater shootings. When sources will be exposed to criminal prosecution and civil liability for speaking to the news media without anonymity, the consequence will be that they will not speak. In those situations especially, is the loss of said information worth the benefit of greater certainty that news will be credible, if all sources will be attributed by name?

    I hope that the information relayed here broadens the scope of this important discussion about the pulse of today’s journalistic trends.

    Sincerely,
    Jay

    1. Jay:
      I’m aware there are times for the use of anonymous sources. I appreciate your providing an overview of the issue so that those interested in it can go to the articles and read the discussions. I smiled when I read you mentioned that Carl Bernstein would speak out in support of using them having had as his source Deep Throat (Mark Felt a frustrated man who would be FBI director who was providing select information undermining Nixon who appointed Gray to the job he wanted).
      I have trouble with anonymous sources in the context of an incident like the Marathon Terrorist Attack and especially with the homicide of Todashev. This is because the information on what happened is readily available to the FBI and producing it will not compromise anything. When it is given to us through “unidentified official sources” who may or may not have access to people with knowledge of the event it relieves the FBI of leveling with us.
      If the newspapers were responsible they’d report the official line which is that and FBI agent killed Todashev. They’d then demand that the FBI tell the public what happened. That never seems to be done. We have different media outlets with different sources (I assume) telling us what the sources suggest happened rather than going to the horse’s mouth, the FBI itself, and having it tell us what happened. The media following such procedures allows the government to put out its story and to have deniability if facts turn out otherwise.
      (There is also the problem of non-existent official sources. When the newspapers reported the arrest of the Marathon Terrorist bombers there were several papers that reported that. Each claimed to have been told it by different sources. But it seemed to me that the source for the media was another media outlet.)
      There are instances when anonymity is essential but they are few and far between. I’d agree with Glenn Greenwald that it is “when someone is risking something substantial to expose concealed wrongdoing of serious public interest.” But the way it used as shown in the Todashev case is completely wrong.

  2. I remember this report:

    QUOTE:
    “They told us that the Marthon Terrorist Attack bombers were under arrest the day before they were identified.”

    CNN and others reported it. And it never hit before right now why that happened and why they leaked and reported that: because FBI did, in fact, know who it was in those photos before they released the photos. At the time, after the disclosure of the Russian warning, I said that they must’ve known who it was before the photo release, and that leak is evidence that somebody did know, and they leaked that fact by mistake. Not the fact that they were under arrest, but the fact that they knew who it was. But they couldn’t locate Tamerlan, so they released the photos. If they also released Tamerlan’s name at the time, then it would’ve been obvious that they knew who he was, and if they knew who he was before, the public would’ve been immediately outraged that he wasn’t dealt with before the bombings. My guess is that, had they not located Tamerlan very soon that night, they would have had no choice but to also release his name and disclose that they knew who it was. The public would’ve wanted to know how they knew that.

    Initially, FBI denied any knowledge of or intel on Tamerlan, until the Russian warning was leaked, and then FBI backtracked and qualified.

    I like your Repeater Reporter nomenclature.

    1. Dear Mark,

      I just wanted to point out the possibility that, like other episodes of false information reported in the news, this may very well have been the product of a rush to be the first to break the news and compete for a future Pulitzer Prize. Even the FBI criticized the media’s use of unofficial sources. See Bill Carter, The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of Arrest, N.Y. Times, April 17, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html.

      If the subjects were identified already before the photographs’ release, it is unclear why this would lead to widespread reports of an arrest, rather than identifying the suspects. Let us also not forget the incorrect reports that missing Brown University student Sunil Trapathi was one of the bombers. See Doug Stanglin, “Student Wrongly Tied to Boston Bombings Found Dead,” USA Today, April 25, 2013, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/04/25/boston-bombing-social-media-student-brown-university-reddit/2112309/. Similarly, there was a bevy of other false news reporting as set forth in list form the day following this tragic event. See Dana Liebelson and Tim Murphy, “7 False Things You Heard About the Boston Bombing,” Mother Jones, April 16, 2013, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/boston-marathon-bombing-fact-fiction.

      I am not dismissing the possibility that the FBI could have known the identity of the suspects all along and merely needed assistance in identifying them. But I also wonder about why, if they knew their identities, why they did not state their names along with the footage, if there had already been leaks anyway? I also wonder if, given the slew of other false facts reported at this same time, if the greater fault should be directed towards the news media, which acted as the instrument of this misinformation on multiple points during this same time. I would further assert that these facts impeach the credibility of the news media above all else.

      Importantly, and as expressly noted in the aforementioned article, the New York Times “did not report there was a suspect or an arrest..). Let us also not overlook the episode in which the New York Post depicted two pictures of the WRONG men on its front cover and followed by criticism from numerous other news outlets. See Adam Clark Estes and Alexander Abad-Santos, “The Boston Bombing ‘Suspects’ and the Story of the Victim Who ID’d One,” The Atlantic Wire, April 18, 2013, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/04/boston-bombing-suspects-investigation/64341/.

      Thus, rather than attributing fault to an FBI hastily covering its tracks, I offer this greater context to consider the role of the media not only as an FBI tool, but also as a misinformation machine in its own right.

      Sincerely,
      Jay

  3. Perhaps, Todashev was Tamerlan’s Florida connection. Maybe, they had money running in a deal involving Brendan Mess and his cohorts as the distributors of something coming up from down south, pills, weed, coke, etc. Did Brendan, and, his friends, goof-up with Tsarnaev’s dough? After Mess was pulled-over, did he talk about Tamerlan and/or Todashev with the police? Wouldn’t there be a recording, and/or, written record of Mess’ statements to the authorities? Perhaps, the ritual nature of the Waltham killings was a ruse intended to lead investigators down the wrong track.

    1. Khalid:
      I go with the money. Todashev and Tamerlan were scraping by. If they killed Mess and friends they would have taken the money.

Comments are closed.