Anonymous Sources Are Useless

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For years I've been telling people that you simply cannot trust the news media when it reports something based on anonymous sources.

People don't care. Even when I prove to them they can't trust anonymous sources, they do it anyway. People love to get information, no matter how sketchy, and blindly follow it ... as long as it reinforces their preconceptions.

Palin doesn't know Africa is a continent? Sure, if you believe Palin is a moron, you'll just accept that, despite the fact that you can't corroborate it.

There's so many reasons to not believe it: it could be the source is lying; it could be the reporter is lying; it could be the reporter misunderstood, and misreported, what the source said; it could be that the source misunderstood what Palin said. And so on. Unless we as the public know who said what, we cannot cross-examine and test the source to get to what actually happened.

And now we see that MSNBC reported that the person leaking information about Palin is someone who ... doesn't exist. It was a hoax. (Not the leak, but this apparent leaker.)

But if Shuster and MSNBC are so quick to report on someone who doesn't exist being the leaker, why would we believe a reporter wouldn't be taken in by a fake source, or a lying one, on the initial story? And if it turns out the source was wrong, do you really think the reporter would tell us, if they didn't get caught?

I know it's hard for a lot of people, but you do have an alternative: strictly reject news stories that do not have verifiable corroboration for their claims. It's not hard once you get the hang of it. While reading or listening to a story, keep an eye out for what the source of the story is. If it is not identified specifically such that you or someone else could find out for yourself, then ignore the story. Forget it. Pretend it doesn't exist.

You simply cannot trust stories based on anonymous sources. When you do trust them, you show yourself to be a fool, and you contribute to the problem of increasingly irresponsible journalistic practices.

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on November 17, 2008 8:04 AM.

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