web counter Media Lies: Beware the experts

Sunday, November 07, 2004

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Beware the experts

Cori Dauber spotlights a NY TImes article by Daniel Okrent, the Times ombudsman, who points out that un-named sources sometimes aren't.
n "Discord on North Korea as Powell Finishes East Asia Trip," Steven R. Weisman, The Times's chief diplomatic correspondent, wrote of current negotiations that "the impasse is not likely to broken soon, many experts say, at least until the American presidential election is over." When I asked him about his posse of experts, he acknowledged that "you caught me using some lazy writing, probably because I was on deadline and exhausted from jet lag."

I'm grateful for Weisman's honesty, and would like to think I'd get similar responses from writers who in just a few days last week told Times readers what "political analysts say" about declining crime rates, "industry analysts" about Internet marketing of car parts and "analysts in Damascus" about the Syria-Iraq border. I'd have much more faith in assertions attributed to these ghosts if they were instead made in the authors' own voices. Weisman, who's been writing about international affairs for more than 20 years, told me that he felt confident that his North Korea characterization was accurate, and that he should have written a phrase like "the impasse appears unlikely to be broken soon."
The next time you read an article in the old media and you read the invocations of "experts" and "witnesses" and the like, keep in mind that these people, and the "proof" they provide, may exist only in the mind of the writer.

We "pajamahadeens", however, feel compelled to document what we write with links to the primary sources so our readers, whom we respect, can judge our opinions' basis in fact for themselves.