Just before breakfast, Hank and his wife Faye found a freshly murdered man on their front lawn. Deeply-tanned, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Hank Messick was a hardbitten, softhearted sleuth for Louisville’s Courier-Journal and then the Miami Herald, authored 16 books on organized crime, repeatedly testified before the US Congress and was a good friend and mentor of mine. The bloody corpse was a warning to anyone even thinking about giving him an interview.
Yet dozens of mob figures spoke to Hank anyway -- and on the record. A properly identified source for Hank was not "a member of organized crime who prefers to remain anonymous." It was, "Joey the Blob Florenza of the Bronx, NY, a made man in the Gambino crime family, enforcer and hitman for 26 years and a flower-lover."
Investigating multi-ethnic mobs in shooting wars was not the safest job in the world, but Hank insisted, "There's no place for 'anonymous sources say'".You’d be surprised how many people on all sides of any story will speak on the record if the reporter is not too lazy to go find them. Even the most seemingly evil people have a need to explain to the world how they see things. Proper sourcing though is much more demanding and far more crucial than the corporate media or most of the independent media want you to know. If you knew, they'd have to actually work.
As the traditional advice to young reporters went, "If one person says that a plane crashed and another says that it didn't, your job is not to quote both of them and call it 'balanced reporting', let alone to quote one of them and call it 'the truth'. Your job is to get off your fucking ass and go look for the fucking plane....""
There are six solid ways to evaluate a reporter or a news outlet....
FIRST, THE NAME OF THE OUTLET DOES NOT MATTER. EVALUATE THE STORY THAT YOU'RE READING OR HEARING. Never judge a story by its "masthead", that is, by the name of the broadcast or publication. Whether it’s Washington Post, the Financial Times, the tri-weekly Paducah Herald, Jimmy Dore, Alex Jones or your favorite blogger, proper sourcing -- not the name of the outlet -- is the difference between real “Shoe-Leather Journalism” and “You'll-Have-To-Just-Trust-Me” news. This is crucially important. Don't accept it because it comes from a publication you trust and don't reject it because it comes from a publication that you don't trust. Judge the particular story.
NEVER ACCEPT A STORY BASED ON ANONYMOUS SOURCES. PERIOD. Good reporters don't lazily announce "People who prefer to remain anonymous in four federal agencies say" and leave it at that. When it comes to quotes in the story, anonymous is almost never necessary. Of course reporters have secret sources speaking on "deep background." Reporters must indeed protect them. Good reporters do that however by using the endangered sources' background information to find both hard evidence and other knowledgeable people who will allow themselves to be quoted by name.
Active spies for example want to remain secret. Retired members of the same agency, in this case retired FBI, CIA and NSA agents, aware of the situation, angry, are often willing to give their names and speak for others who might lose their jobs or their lives if they spoke. Citing 700 anonymous sources is not worth more than citing one anonymous source and that is not worth the paper or pixels that it’s printed on. So if you hear a report that "a high-ranking official says that 45 top members of government say that they have seen a secret copy of the treaty which shows that....", it says precisely nothing. Ditto with a broadcaster saying, "We have it on good authority that...."
LISTEN FOR SOURCES SPEAKING AGAINST THEIR BEST INTERESTS; THEY'RE THE MOST TRUSTWORTHY. Exact identification of sources tells you where each person was standing when it happened and what they have to gain. The most believable sources are those risking death, injury or job loss by being quoted, like “Bobby Ray Long -- an employed miner in a country with a 33% unemployment rate -- says that the Global Mining Corporation [GMC]is denying promised coverage to retired miners and threatening to fire any employed miners who speak out about it."
However, “George Strongarm, CEO, Global Mining, a subsidiary of World Conquest Inc., states that insurance coverage has not been denied, adding, 'besides black lung does not exist’" is another matter. He has a vested interest in saying that. That doesn't mean he's lying but there's a flag on the play. Again, pay closer attention to someone speaking against a situation that gives her or him gain, like “Disagreeing with his brother George, Glenn Strongarm, co-owner Global Mining, says that black lung indeed exists and that he sides on this issue with the miners."
Look for corroboration, like, “Dr. Cynthia Trabue, MD, treating retired coal miners in the Hardin KY area, says that due to lost company insurance coverage, their death rate from black lung is skyrocketing."
If you were the reporter, the combination of these four people, properly identified, would yield a story that is almost good journalism. Almost. Add tangible, verifiable evidence -- x-rays of black lung disease with a medical explanation, GMC insurance records found in the court records of the case, a chart of black lung deaths over time in the area -- and there you are.
SO AS THE READER OR LISTENER, LOOK FOR TANGIBLE, VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE IN THE REPORT. Evidence that is tangible is like a bystander's video of a person being shot in the back while fleeing a policeman wearing a body cam. Evidence becomes both tangible and verifiable if you can get your hands on it, like getting the tapes, or nailing the text of the secret TransPacificPartnership [TPP] Treaty which (in the absence of any "news outlets" willing to go to the trouble) Julian Assange of Wikileaks nailed and posted in time for US-Americans and people in other nations as far away as Vietnam to read, judge and stop.
If the evidence is said to be a "scientific study", no scientific study is made up of testimonials. Saying that "9 out of 10 doctors surveyed agreed" means that ten doctors were phoned and -- miracle of miracles -- nine agreed with whoever paid them. It does not mean that 90% of doctors agree about whatever it is.
In medicine, the publication definitely matters because there are over 5000 medical journals in English alone. Trust the highly-respected Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine and any the Journal of [fill in well-known medical specialty, like Journal of Neuroscience] more than a journal with lots of words in the title. Those are typically at the bottom of the heap. If something is in "medical trials", then "experimental" means on non-human animals only, and therefore not necessarily applicable to humans. "Clinical" means that based on successful experimental studies, the trials are now using human subjects, but the procedure or substance has not yet proven itself BOTH safe and effective enough to be released for general medical use. "Generic" is in every way identical to a "name brand": it just means that the patent rights have expired so it costs you less....
STOP TO WONDER, "IS EACH STATEMENT SOMETHING THAT THE SOURCE COULD KNOW?" Joey the Blob in the New York mob would know a great deal about US east coast organized crime and their killings, but should not be quoted as an expert on nuclear treaties. Just because somebody is a country singer or Hollywood star does not make that person an expert on nuclear treaties either....
SO FREE YOURSELF
"Anonymous" sources? "Possible" evidence? "Everybody knows"? It’s all too easy to falsify. Here we are on the net, a cornucopia of responsible documents and solid information for those who bother to look. Yet for many listeners and readers, "research" is "checking" by listening to other commentators in the same echo chamber.
The moral and professional bankruptcy of offline news does not excuse online bloviators who make it all up -- or the people who swallow, uh, follow them. Within any echo chamber, it is in a commentator's best interest to say what the flock wants to hear, and the more sensationally, the better. "The leftwing wants to confiscate our guns." "The rightwing are all Nazis." Yeah sure. Quit being so gullible. Take time to chase down primary documents yourself, to listen outside your comfort zone, to identify solid reporters across the ideological spectrum. That's being independently informed, being mentally free....