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Note: I am not interested in debating what the DNC strategy will be from this day forward - whether they will use the 50 State Strategy or not is not relevant to the focus of this diary, so I would appreciate it if we could discuss the actual focus.

Today on the Front Page of Daily Kos, we were treated to speculative rumors without a named source. For a moment, I wondered when DKos started subscribing to the AP - since that's typical journalism from the AP - use unnamed and unknown sources as if they speak for those who are making the decisions and are stating fact. This can be a good thing because it can provide us peons with inside information we weren't supposed to have, but information that might be relevant to us. But what happens when the source gets it wrong? The author loses credibility and gets a reputation for playing fast and loose with the unnamed sources and facts. People stop reading. People find other sources of news.

How do I know this happens? Because we wouldn't be on this site today if it didn't. Many readers in the blogosphere are here because they used to read the NYT, or WaPo, or watch FOX News, or various AP authors - and I can say, prior to this influx of unnamed sources - most wouldn't have even noticed the name on the article.

The netroots has been critical of the traditional media and their use of unnamed sources for several years now. You don't have to search far to find plenty of discussion on the matter here at DKos - by Kos himself. I'm sure Kos felt that his caveat in today's post was enough to exonerate himself from any criticism, but I don't think it was enough. First we have the title of the post: RIP 50-state strategy

Assuming Bowers' source is correct, the DC Democratic establishment will like this. They hated losing control of that cash and letting the states decide for themselves how to best spend it. This is a return to how the party has traditionally operated.

Oh, we're assuming alright. We're assuming so much that the title of the piece assumes that Bowers' source is absolutely correct - only after one reads further does one get the caveat. This is a well-known tactic of newspapers - write a title and a lede that frames the story the way you want it framed and to hell with the facts. Only if people read the entire story do they get a remotely balanced story of what may have happened (we think, based on an unnamed source close to xyz who may have overheard others whispering).

Except:

New report from The Hill: "The 50-state strategy is now and forever what Democrats do," Kaine told DNC members at the party’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The plan to seek to compete in all states was put in place by Kaine’s successor, Howard Dean.

droogie6653321 has a piece on the rec list now - which he updated with the above information after he realized he may have been jumping to conclusions. Are you frakking kidding me, Dems? (updated w/ new report) droogie updated his post. Kos didn't. Bowers didn't. I see one credible author here who is able to admit when he may have made a mistake or a rush to judgment.

Let's look at what Bowers says about his source:

During the festivities here in D.C., I ran into a source close to the transition at the DNC who was able to provide an update on the new outlines of the DNC strategy, which does diverge from the current form of the fifty-state strategy in multiple ways:

Okay. So who exactly might that be? No name. This person is "close" to the transition.

Are they on the transition team?
Which transition team? DNC transition?
White House transition?
Congress transition?
How do they know?
What level of information is this source expected to have?
What position are they in to gain access to accurate and up to date information?
How do we know they don't have a personal vendetta against Kaine?
Are they a Republican?
Who do they work for?
Are they mad they didn't get a better position?
Are they being sent to a state they don't want to go to by the new DNC?
What is their relationship to Howard Dean?
What is their relationship to Obama?
Did they get this information first hand? Second? Third?
Did they overhear this information?
Did the overhear it based on an entire conversation, or just partial?
Did they jump to conclusions about a specific part of a conversation?
This person ran into Chris "during the festivities" - were they intoxicated?
Do they have evidence?
Do they have access to evidence?

I could go on - and on - for an embarrassingly long amount of time here. It's embarrassing because Bowers (and Kos) should know better than to cite a source like this.

Kos got frustrated back in May of 2005 and posted this piece, White House lectures on single source? Back in May of 2005 Markos thought that people should be held accountable for the errors their sources have made.

When confronted with an anonymous source who provided faulty intelligence that the President relied upon to go to war, McClellan chose not to talk about standards of accountability that should be met. Instead, the White House passed the buck to an independent commission and suggested that it didn't matter what subsequent information they learned about Iraq's intelligence because they didn't know it when they went to war. Newsweek has taken responsibility by retracting its story. Will President Bush take responsibility for his own errors?

I'll just repost this here and remind everyone that there has been no update to the FP post, "RIP 50-state strategy"

"The 50-state strategy is now and forever what Democrats do," Kaine told DNC members at the party’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C.

In April of 2007, Kos tells readers that ABC news is unreliable (and cites examples) and then notes, "It's amazing how much media organizations still labor under the fiction that the public trusts them." - We're the media. Trust us. Just because.

When did the netroots take up this same motto? "We're the netroots. Trust us. Just because."?

In a FP post from November of 2005, Armando talks about Anonymous Sources and the updated NYT policy for handling such things. Here's what Armando was commenting on:

After an internal committee on credibility came up with more recommendations early this year, Bill Keller, the executive editor, further tightened the guidelines for the use of anonymous sources in June. The most notable change, at least for me: Readers are to be told why The Times believes a source is entitled to anonymity - a switch from the previous practice of stating why the source asked for it.

Armando rightly noted in this post that readers have never been given this information. So...anyone have any idea why Bowers' source needed anonymity? Does he work somewhere in the Administration? For a Congressperson? For the DNC? For Kaine? Dean? DFA? A State Dem Party leadership person? etc. We have no idea who Bowers' source is and why he/she needs that anonymity - and he's certainly not updated us to share that detail. I don't know what is worse - having a policy you don't follow? Or criticizing traditional media over a several-year period for citing unnamed sources and refusing to provide detail and then turning around to do the exact same thing in your own "journalism".

Kos cites a Village Voice article by Sydney H. Schanberg, Repairing Journalism in his post from November of 2005, The compact between reporters and anonymous sources:

When reporters agree with government officials not to disclose their identity, both sides are making a compact. Reporters are agreeing not to reveal who the sources are or even what government or agency they work for. And the sources, in return, are agreeing to tell reporters, yes, the truth.

So, at least back in 2005 Kos believed that those using unnamed sources should be held accountable for lies that are told to them by those sources - in other words, the journalist loses credibility.

Bowers once wrote about credible sources in Clark Running? Looks Like It

I don't necessarily trust a random, anonymous blogger with an anonymous source. However, if Clark is calling donors, if staffers are saying he is leaning toward a run, if he is speaking at a forum where the other eight speakers are all announced candidates, and if he is appearing on Hardball the same day as his DNC speech, then it gives a lot more credence to an anonymous blogger with an anonymous source.

All in all, it certainly looks like Clark will announce soon, probably on Friday. I didn't think he would run just one week ago, but right now it seems like I was wrong. Once Clark announces, that will leave Gore as the only announced possibility. In all likelihood, Clark's announcement will solidify the field at ten. Any changes to the field after his announcement will most likely come from people dropping out (cough, Biden, cough).

Okay, so we shouldn't trust anonymous bloggers and their anonymous sources, but we should trust Chris Bowers and his anonymous sources! I see how it works! Chris thinks he's better - just because.

And yet, the source in this example - and the assumptions Chris makes based on the information given - were completely and utterly wrong. Clark never entered the race (because obviously he knew that Clinton was running and they would have drawn from the same constituencies) and Biden didn't drop out until after the Iowa Caucus roughly a year after this post. At this point, I don't think I trust Bowers' sources.

So how did we get this story? Well that's kinda funny.

  1. Clark is two weeks away from decision. Supposedly. - by Kos who is citing a Clark "advisor" as the source over at Hotline On Call.
  1. Some DNC meeting is scheduled.
  1. djm4america posted Clark's Running (Updated) on DKos.

So Bowers jumps to the conclusion that Clark is probably running and will "probably" announce on Friday. Anyone see a credible source in there? I don't. Wonder how they could have been wrong...gee, I dunno!

Bowers ran into other problems with sources during the primary: Primary Calendar Happenings

Michigan is not mobbing to January 29th, as I have often assumed. Last week I received the following bit of information from an anonymous source:

My local Democratic club, and my county party, have been told to secure caucus sites for December 8th and 15th, and January 5th and 12th, along with our scheduled February 9th. The list of sites are to be submitted by June 1st, so it would seem these are the only possible 5 dates.

Michigan did move their primary to January 15th - which wasn't one of the options according to the source and wasn't very likely according to Chris's speculation.

And in October of 2007 Chris was wondering if Al Gore would get into the race: What I Have Heard On An Al Gore Run

Chris sites CNN - which sites an unnamed source - and comes up with this:

At least in terms of the criteria Gore is using, this actually meshes up quite closely to the best information I have on Gore's decision-making process. While what I heard was third hand, I trust both of the sources it went through before reaching me. That is, Gore has long been thinking about running, but the main calculation is whether he, or anyone else, can defeat Hillary Clinton. If he grows convinced that no one can beat Clinton for the nomination, then he won't run. If he is convinced that either Edwards or Obama can defeat Clinton, then he won't run. However, if he is convinced that he can defeat Clinton, but that Edwards and Obama cannot, then he will run.

We will never know here if the sources were right - if Gore never had any intention of getting into the race, or if Gore just came to the conclusion that someone else could in fact defeat Clinton and so he decided he could stay out of the race and move on to other things. We do learn something important here though - third hand information is a-ok as long as the sources are trusted! Would the NYT policy allow for this? Should the netroots use this as an unwritten rule for what is an appropriately trustworthy source?

Devilstower wrote a great piece in April of 2007, Some Advice for the Traditional Media. There is a section I'd like to quote and I hope he doesn't mind my putting it here:

Your Inside Source is Not Worth Your Soul

It's cool to have access to information no one else has.  Frankly, that's what they're paying you for, right?  To collect all those drips and drops of information, squeeze them together, and put them in a package the average guy with a cup of coffee and a lick of sense can understand.  

In the process of trying to collect this information, you're going to meet people.  Some of them -- probably all of them -- are going to tell you things they think you should know.  The bulk of your job is not repeating all of this, but sifting out the things that are worth repeating from those that aren't.  And here's the thing: it's up to you to know the difference.

When you find that thing that needs repeating, you have to tell.  Have to.  You tell, even if it means your bestest secret inside pal -- the buddy who can get you a window seat on Air Force One,  a night in the Lincoln bedroom, and backstage with the Stones -- will never talk to you again.  

You tell because you don't work for your sources.  You work for your readers / viewers.  Protect your sources from those who want to come after them for talking?  Absolutely.  Protect your sources because printing what you know might upset them?  Never.  When you work for your sources instead of your readers, you end up turning into Robert Novak.  Is that what you want?

Oh, and every single one of your sources is trying to play you.  Just thought you should know.

Bloggers should take this advice. Unnamed sources do not make for a great scoop or a smug headline. Sometimes unnamed sources end up providing us with great information - information we really desperately needed - information that, if it didn't get exposed, would allow someone to break the law, etc. But unnamed sources who are spreading rumors with zero evidence - who we are just supposed to trust - because "YOU" tell us too? That's just not acceptable. That damages the credibility of ALL of us here - not just you, and you should be held accountable for that.

Originally posted to Elise on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 07:14 PM PST.

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