11/23/2017

November 16, 2015: Unsubstantiated Anonymous Sources Have No Place in Journalism

I can’t guarantee that I got all the commas where they belong today, but I can guarantee that what you read here is my opinion laid out for all to see.

That is in stark contrast to cowardly anonymous comments that seem to be pervading our world these days, thanks to social media and to some in the news media more than willing to be a complicit partner.

 

A recent — and anonymous — report claimed that a number of prominent politicians including Georgia’s senior senator, Johnny Isakson had been members of the Ku Klux Klan. No proof. No corroboration. Only a claim that the information had been obtained by gaining access to a KKK Twitter account — The Klan twitters? Knock me over with a bedsheet! — and then posting the list along with a message: “These are the officials that have political power in the USA that are associated with either KKK or racist-related.”

 

We should have all had a good laugh and said “kids will be kids” except several news outlets deemed it to be a legitimate news story and treated it as such, dragging Sen. Isakson’s name through unsubstantiated mud, including the CBS television affiliate in Atlanta, a perennial bottom-feeder in the ratings.

 

Sen. Isakson’s office was then put in the position of having to issue a denial that he was not nor ever had been a member of the KKK. “It is disappointing that so many media outlets gave credence to these baseless, highly damaging allegations from a source who hid behind an anonymous Twitter account and who had no real credibility” his press office wrote. “This failure by some news media organizations to live up to the journalistic standards only worsens the distrust of all of the media by the American public. It is extremely discouraging that someone as respected as Sen. Isakson was disparaged based on nothing more than lies and misinformation, and that some in the media helped perpetuate the lies.”

 

While this was going on, Congressman Steve Smith, a Tea Party stalwart from Georgia’s 15th District got CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and a couple of weenies at CNBC and MSNBC into a self-righteous swivet along with their liberal Kool-Aid drinking acolytes with some of his politically-incorrect tweets. The problem is that none of them took the time or made the effort to see where Georgia’s 15th congressional district is located. Had they done so, they would have discovered that Georgia only has14 congressional districts and Steve Smith serves none of them.  Oh.

 

I spend a few shekels annually at my beloved Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia in hopes that the next generation of communicators will understand how to manage both the value and power of social media which is here to stay but will also not forget the importance of accuracy, which hasn’t changed nor should it ever.

 

It is not about Twitter or Facebook or blogs or whatever. It is about credibility. It is not about being first. It is about being correct. It disturbs me to see trust in the media continues to drop. According to the latest Gallup Poll only 40 percent of the American public trusts the media. If you don’t trust us, who can you trust? 

Journalism is a profession and an honorable one, but it is also a business and to stay in business requires readers or viewers or listeners. That means there is the temptation on the part of some — and, fortunately, I believe it to be a minority — to make an illegitimate story legitimate no matter what its source in order to keep or add to their ratings or to their circulation numbers.

 

No legitimate journalist worth his or her salt would dare give credence to an accusation that Isakson is or ever has been associated with the Ku Klux Klan without seeking out additional sources to verify the charge. But, alas, legitimate journalists worth their salt seem to be in somewhat short supply these days. How do I know? Why, Steve Smith of Georgia’s 15th District told me so. But please keep that just between us. Congressman Smith would like to remain anonymous.

 

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb.