Trust, but verify

Nov 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Ethics

We have written before about the problem of an unquestioning media either intentionally or unintentionally presenting information as facts that is actually carefully managed propaganda. This comes in many forms, from reporters embedded with intelligence agencies, to analysts picking and choosing evidence to support a predetermined conclusion. to journalists simply repeating what they are told without verifying the claims made by their sources. A recent report by The New York Times shows why journalists must always investigate and verify the claims of their sources, even if they consider them trustworthy.

The New York Times report by C.J. Chivers examines claims made during the fighting in Libya by a doctor and others. The journalists’ sources made some claims about fighters that, when fact checked, turned out to be false.

How often do we hear our own journalists and anchors make statements such as, “We don’t need an inquiry, I am telling it is true!” Or, “This information has come from a source at the highest levels!”. Whether the information confirms the anchors personal beliefs or the source is a person of great respect, facts are facts – even when they are inconvenient. Journalists can trust their sources, but we still have the responsibility to verify what we are told and not simply act as parrots who repeat without question.

Whether this happens as the result of bias on the part of the journalist or on the other hand an attempt by the journalist to remain neutral, the end result is the same – the public is misled and their conclusions are based on incorrect information. If we are going to successfully address the issues facing our nation, we must be armed with facts, not lies and conspiracies. For this to happen, we need journalists who are willing to verify what their sources tell them before passing along to the public.

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