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June 14, 2006

Time for Truthout to Burn Sources on Alleged Rove 'Indictment'?

An article published last month by the liberal website Truthout.org claiming Karl Rove's lawyers had been handed indictment papers from a grand jury on Friday, May 12 by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald seems to have been debunked. News relayed by Rove's lawyer stating that Fitzgerald has said he will not in fact be pursuing charges against Rove appear to mean Truthout's account was false.

Truthout later went on to assert that Rove had basically marched into the Oval Office to announce his indictment and all but resigned on the spot, according to "a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee."

Given that the piece was based on anonymous "high-level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting," and written by a reporter (Jason Leopold) whose own credibility has been questioned on numerous occasions, it is understandable why responsible observers might have been hesitant to accept the veracity of the story at the outset.

Others stood by Leopold from word one. Indeed, some of Truthout's hardcore supporters are holding out to this moment

Critics, meanwhile, have lambasted Leopold and Truthout editor Marc Ash for not yet retracting the stories, revealing their sources and apologizing to their readers. Still others said the story -- true or false -- was irresponsible because its sourcing is so thin. Even prominent, steadfast TO/Leopold supporter Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft seems to have turned on them. Merritt gives Leopold and TO the benefit of the doubt, though, while insisting the "sources were wrong and should be outed."

It's sketchy enough that TO thought the story was worth rushing out in the first place, but nonetheless I am not convinced TO's reporting -- which I never quite believed, anyway -- was necessarily wrong. Indeed, the secret meeting described by Leopold's alleged sources may have taken place. Fitzgerald may have shown Rove's team a sealed indictment handed down by a grand jury and then later -- yesterday -- decided for whatever reason not to pursue the case. They may be in court right now moving for a sealed dismissal. We'll probably never know, because all of this is kept secret.

If there is a sealed indictment, it might not be identifiable, but it would be on public record. Ash has conveniently discovered a sealed indictment which he says he is sure names Rove, though neither he nor anyone else can prove or disprove that at this time.

In any case, what we know isn't the important thing, if Ash and Leopold are telling the truth about what sources told them. How do you burn an anonymous source for lying if you cannot prove they lied?

If it does turn out that Leopold and Truthout were duped, they will be relieved of any obligation to respect the sources' anonymity. That is, if the indictment Ash is sure names Rove turns out to be something else, or if Fitzgerald and the judge decide to reveal that no secret indictment existed, the proof will be unavoidable.

Since Leopold's sources had "direct knowledge of the meeting" (which means they were present, or maybe on teleconference, anything else being indirect), it can't be the case that the sources themselves were duped, as some have suggested. So it will be time to reveal them, since their only motive for constructing such a story will have been to discredit Truthout and Leopold. Indeed, not revealing them would be a tremendous disservice to public-interest journalism. Anonymous sources need to know that lying in order to discredit honest journalists will have consequences.

In the end, this raises ages-old questions about the reliability of journalism -- especially the agenda-driven reporting and opining sites like Truthout engage in as a matter of craft. Unlike The NewStandard, Truthout and similar sites from across the political spectrum start writing with the conclusion already known. They aren't digging to discover, but rather to prove something. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with propaganda, as long as someone doesn't pretend it's news journalism. Blurring that line is unethical.

As to why TO ran the story in the first place, maybe it was a gamble that, if the story were later proved true, it would have lent remarkable credibility to the publication. Now, even many long-time TO readers are slamming Ash and Leopold with a vengeance -- so the backlash against TO's rep is likely to be severe and crippling.

Comments...

Randi99: Too easy

You're letting truthout off to easy. There was no "secret indictment". They know it. Everyone knows it. Sounds like you even know it. Are you just being diplomatic?

Bobdinsf: Time for Truthout to Burn Sources on Alleged Rove 'Indictment'?

If anything Jason Leopold and Truthout.org are guilty of speculating. They could be wrong and yet they could be right. As of now they are not proved right, and yet they are not proved wrong. The Rove camp claims that Rove will not (I think they said "likely") be indicted. That's not proof. Shouldn't all who are trying to be journalists stick to what we know and have verified. Leopold pushed the envelope, and yet to claim that Rove will not be indicted because his lawyer said so is not good journalism.

JAYBOD: Time for Truthout to Burn Sources on Alleged Rove 'Indictment'?

I am not impressed with New Standard's attack on Tuthout.org. Drawing attention to the fact that the website was in error, as far as facts up to this time show, was appropriate. The assault on the website and on the writer of the article did not reduce my respect for the efforts of truthout, but rather, the devisive nature of NS's attack causes me to question the ability of NS to continue balanced reporting. I would rather not need to search every article, posted by NS, trying to determine wether it is a news item, as the Rove information is, or an attack article, as the response to the T.O. article was. Anyone paying attention became aware of the gulf between TO's earlier release and the most recent release. I also am aware of TO's attempt to be accountable for the error and to rectify the minor damage done.

The media in America is fractured, shattered, and nearly non-existant, so I must think of how elated Rupert and his sidekicks are to watch two of the most liberal of on-line news sources attack each other.

If truthout made a mistake, help them out!!!

Support the mission, not the incident. Leave the egos at the door. There is a death struggle going on in the news media world regarding the truth. Quit fighting each other and focus on getting the "truth out"!!! This would, indeed, be a "new standard" for American news media!

Brian Dominick: response to Jaybod

Jaybod, I am totally stunned by your criticism. I don't think I even understand it. Far from "attacking" Truthout, which we have never done, I thought I was coming to their defense, albeit not uncritically. I said they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and that calls for them to reveal sources -- coming from across the spectrum -- are still premature. Have you noticed what many on the rest of the liberal/left Web are saying right now to TO? (Not to mention the Right.) If you think we're attacking, I don't think you've seen a real attack yet.

TO has drastically different journalistic standards from TNS. There's really no sense in arguing that. It doesn't mean there is not mutual respect. They have reprinted TNS stories from time to time, and I hope they'll continue to do so. We appreciate the hard work they do, and I personally look to them now and then for insight.

I raised this issue because it is very relevant to journalism, not out of any motivation vis-a-vis Truthout. It's against our interest to piss them off, believe me. So this is not infighting, this is one group critically coming to the defense of another. This is not a time for unquestioning support, but for careful consideration of what solidarity can and should look like.

I wrote Marc a very considerate email just this morning, wishing him the best in this difficult time, and notifying him of my blog post here. We're hardly in a fight, even though he may not like everything I have to say.

I trash the corporate media on a regular basis here and in my In Other News... Doghouse posts and remarks. Gently, calculatingly criticizing the misstep of a fellow alternative media publisher is not a violation of some sacrosanct principle.

Regarding TO's attempt to "rectify" the "minor damage" done, I'm not sure what that refers to. All I have seen is them evading a concession, which is their prerogative until, as you say, they are proved wrong.

Randy G: Time for Truthout to Burn Sources on Alleged Rove 'Indictment'?

I have to say - if anything - I think Brian went easy on TruthOut. I would have expected him to take them to task for this. In fact, I think there is a double standard at play here. If the MSM had screwed up that badly, woudln't Brian have wiped the floor with them?

Benjamin Melançon: Time for Truthout to Burn Sources on Alleged Rove 'Indictment'?

I know I'm coming to this late, but for the record, regarding this concern:

"I would rather not need to search every article, posted by NS, trying to determine wether it is a news item, as the Rove information is, or an attack article, as the response to the T.O. article was."

Even if a NewStandard staffer wrote in the staff blog what looked to be Rove's own stream-of-consciousness invective, you would not have to try to determine whether a news item is anything but a news item. A blog entry is one person's opinion. A news item is a news item. That is why the NewStandard goes to such lengths to separate the un-edited blogs from the collectively produced content.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.