News articles shouldn’t use unnamed sources

Sept. 15, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

It’s an inside baseball week this week. I hope you won’t mind.

Who’s the source?

I’m terribly old school in many regards to this job. Yes, I try to keep up with social media and other 21st century things that make impacts on this job.

I frequently either delight or dismay my staff with my ignorance.

Some practices have remained intact and one is not using unnamed sources. I require people to go on the record because I don’t wish anything to happen as has happened in the case of the recent article in The Atlantic about remarks allegedly made by President Donald Trump about the military.

If any of us here write something that is seen as controversial – and we have – we need undisputed facts to back up the story.

I realize that is not the norm in this industry – but again – I’m old school.

Despite multiple reporters saying they had confirmed the remarks quoted in story through their own unnamed sources, the bottom line is no one had the backbone to go on record and therefore nothing came from the report.

Trump’s supporters have an opportunity to rail against media outlets – nothing new there – and Trump’s detractors have another incident to criticize him.

There are no real consequences to Trump’s remarks.

I’m afraid I’m tired of that as a citizen and as a media consumer.

If you witnessed the commander-in-chief calling people who gave their lives in defense of this nation “losers” and “suckers,” you should step forward. If you have proof, you need to step forward.

There is too much at stake. As I’ve said before, people in this industry can’t afford to wound the bear.

The pandemic is worse than Watergate

I was recently asked by a person I’ve known most of my life about whether or not legendary reporter Bob Woodward did the right thing by holding the information he received through interviews with President Donald Trump about the pandemic until now.

The issue is whether or not any policies on the federal level could have been changed with the revelations.

As you may know the president admitted he knew how deadly the virus could be, but said he “downplayed” that information to the American people because he didn’t want to cause a panic.

Some people have now criticized Woodward and said he should have revealed this information sooner. I’m one of them.

As we near 200,000 deaths one can only wonder that if Trump’s approach had been revealed if he would have been forced to change it.

Woodward had something that no on else had: Trump on interview tapes. In this case there could be no charges of secret sources or twisting the president’s words.

I believe Woodward should have made this information public. Now whether or not it would have changed anything is up to speculation. Knowing how the president felt about the virus earlier this year and seeing how he acted would indicate there might have been little impact on Trump.

Still, though, it would have shown what the president knew, when he knew it and how he publicly reacted.

There are plenty of people who defend Woodward and believe his approach was better.

My problem with the situation is this was about people’s lives. What Trump did and when he did it affected public policy.

Carl Bernstein, Woodward’s reported partner from “All the President’s Men,” told CNN Trump’s actions were worse than what President Richard Nixon ever did.

“The facts here are graver than Watergate,” he said.

The practical side of this story is again whether or not people who support the president will thoughtfully evaluate it. Will it make a difference in spurring critical thinking?

I’m not sure, but if I believe this story should have been revealed before now.

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