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Journalistic standards?

John Edwards 240 This newspaper, along with much of the mainstream media, has been hammered for ignoring the National Enquirer's reporting about an affair liberal Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was allegedly having during the campaign with his videographer. Those allegations proved to be true, and Edwards' political career is now a historical footnote, which should make his personal life a nonissue, right?

Or not. Thursday, The Times' website is carrying a story (and a video!) from its corporate sibling, KTLA, reporting on the Enquirer's latest Edwards scoop. "If you're into scandals, former Sen. John Edwards is the gift that keeps on giving," KTLA's Victoria Recaño says as she introduces the video piece. The station's reporter, Cher Calvin, then is shown interviewing ... not Edwards or anyone else involved in the scoop but the Enquirer scribe who wrote it (who goes on to speculate about the cost of Edwards' divorce and the outcome of a federal investigation into whether Edwards used campaign funds improperly). So, I guess that means the Enquirer is a reliable source now, huh?

Hillary and BillWild speculation, however, isn't solely the province of supermarket tabloids and the media outlets who quote them. Witness the initial report on ABCNews.com by Emily Friedman about former President Clinton's hospitalization. ABC may have broken the story about Clinton being rushed to the hospital with chest pains; if it did, my hat's off to them. But there's no excuse for Friedman including this statement in one of her first dispatches:

Sources on Capital (sic) Hill tell ABC News that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was seen leaving the Oval Office a short time ago and did not seem "too concerned" or "in a rush."

Make that, unidentified sources with mind-reading capabilities. I won't even pretend to know what Friedman was trying to get across, but there are at least two equally valid ways to read that sentence: The former president's medical problems weren't life-threatening, or his wife couldn't care less what happens to him. As it happened, Clinton underwent surgery to prop open a coronary artery, which seems like a pretty serious procedure. And the secretary of State may not, in fact, have been blithely unconcerned about her notoriously unfaithful husband's condition. Here's what Friedman wrote in a later version of the story:

Sources on Capitol Hill tell ABC News that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was seen leaving the Oval Office around the same time that Clinton had been hospitalized. Sources told ABC News that Secretary Clinton was "very concerned when told about the President, given his heart history" and that it made everyone "very nervous."

The ABC News website offered no explanation for or acknowledgment of the change in its reporting. Here's a link to the story, in case you'd like to see the latest insight from ABC News about Hillary Clinton's frame of mind.

Top photo of Elizabeth and John Edwards: AP Photo / Michael Dwyer. Bottom photo of Hillary and Bill Clinton: EPA / Andrew Theodorakis / Pool

-- Jon Healey


Comments () | Archives (17)

The comments to this entry are closed.

andrew nelson

uuuuhhhmmmm, Jon, where you been? You're just now waking up to the realization that the public thinks that the LA Times is the mouth piece of the Chicago Tribune Company and the Hyde Park Chapter of the Chicago Mafia? We've been hammering you guys for a lack of jounalistic standards for sometime now, and you're just remarking on this little item, with another news outlet? Where were you guys on the ACORN story? Where were you guys on Van Jones, the Whitehouse's Green Jobs Czar? Where were you guys on the transformational event in Massachusetts? Everyone, outside on Mainstream Media, knew what was going on up there. Where were ou guys on the Tea Party Revolt? You guys are still shilling the Democrat talking point that it's 'Astroturf'. Come on. We have just resigned ourselves to the fact that Corporate News Media Outlets have an agenda. The fact is, that internet has allowed uncensored news, not only in the third world and totalitarian countries, but here in the United States, against the totalitarian 'opinion control' of Corporate News Media.

The dude

Good on the LATIMES for calling out poor reporting by a major news outlet. "unidentified sources with mind-reading capabilities," hit the nail on the head. Frankly, the reporter should be held more accountable for such reportage. hate to suggest anyone lose a job these days, but other good reporters are being let go while this sloppiness gets another crack.

David Ehrenstein

All sources must be explicitly identified by name. No exceptions.


this "reporter" should be fired. The MSM should be accountable for their ways of "changing" stories. It their fault we have a stooge for a president in the first place. i say fire her sorry face. we dont need these "reporters".


I agree, all sources must be explicitly identified by name, no exceptions. So let's see the LAT lead the way. The greatest irony of course, is the unmitigated gall and hypocrisy of Jon Healey and the LAT calling out any other news source for their lack of identified sources, and sneering that the Enquirer just *might* be a reliable source.

Physician, heal thyself.

Jon Healey

@David -- No exception for whistleblowers? Witnesses with a legitimate fear for their lives? I don't argue with you that my industry makes far too liberal use of unnamed sources, particularly in leveling criticisms against people (e.g., politicians, CEOs, celebrities). I think the result is the well-documented lack of trust that readers have in the media. But episodes like Watergate show that sometimes, anonymous sources can be crucial to exposing corruption and malfeasance. How might you craft a rule on sources that recognized the legitimate need for some witnesses to stay hidden?

Jon Healey

@Dana -- See my response to David, below. I will cop to the gall and hypocrisy -- I'm an editorial writer, after all -- but my point here wasn't to merely mock other people. I was criticizing this here LA Times website for running the KTLA/Enquirer thing. Regardless of how you feel about the Enquirer, we shouldn't be giving a platform for its reporters to offer their guesses about how civil and criminal cases will turn out. I say that not because speculation is the sole province of the Opinion section (although really, there have to be *some* perks to this job), but because it's just lazy. There's a difference between analysis and guesswork.


"...or his wife couldn't care less what happens to him..."
should be "...*could* care less..." i agree with the piece. but please do what can to slow the rapid decline of improper grammar in our culture.

Jon Healey

@John -- I know the expression is "I could care less about (fill in the blank)," but that never made sense to me. If you really are indifferent about something, shouldn't you say that you could *not* care less about it? For an overly long discussion of this very issue, see http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-ico1.htm. And for an absurdly earnest graphical representation, see http://incompetech.com/gallimaufry/care_less.html.


@ jon,

I understand the very rare need to protect a source's identity - however, it seems to have become the norm within the MSM to protect a source's identity to further a narrative, or worse yet, to claim an "anonymous source" when there isn't a source at all but rather deception being used to adjust the story accordingly. This disgraces journalism. Or perhaps it ceases being journalism at that point.

"Regardless of how you feel about the Enquirer, we shouldn't be giving a platform for its reporters to offer their guesses about how civil and criminal cases will turn out. I say that not because speculation is the sole province of the Opinion section (although really, there have to be *some* perks to this job), but because it's just lazy. "

I am agnostic about the Enquirer but find it a bit of delicious irony that this tabloid scoops major newspapers. They could be on their way to becoming the go-to for breaking news. And unlike LAT, they don't have any agenda to push or narrative to adhere to, so they have much more freedom to be relentless in their investigations, and fearless with publishing the facts the discover. They have far less need to whitewash or "adjust".

Jon, if you feel that it's wrong for the Enquirer to be giving a platform for it's reporters to offer their guesses about how cases will turn out, I assume you feel the same way about the LAT?

Jon Healey

@Dana -- I'm not comfortable with news reporters offering opinions, period. I'm less offended by it when there's some actual reporting behind it -- for example, when a reporter sits through 10 days of testimony and then says, "Things don't look good for the plaintiff," or something to that effect. Even then, though, that strikes me as less valuable than having the reporter talk to several people who've sat through those 10 days of testimony to see if there's a consensus about how things look for the plaintiff, non? But then, that would take more work. :-)

BTW, before you go too far in defending the Enquirer, you might take a look at Gossip Cop and consider the tabloid's methods. Here's one example: http://www.gossipcop.com/nicole-forrester-i-am-not-pregnant-national-enquirer-faked-josh-duhamel-love-child-story/ Getting scoops is important, but so is being right on a regular basis.

Finally, you'll find no argument from me about the overuse of anonymous sources and the corrosive effect it has on credibility. The fact that you suggest reporters would make up sources in order to justify a story speaks to that credibility problem. I mean, that's a firing offense for a professional journalist. That's Jayson Blair/Stephen Glass territory. I would note, though, that it's not a problem just in the MSM. The bloggers and online journalists who do original reporting fall into the same trap. It's a bad practice for anybody.


john, touche'! thanks for the enlightenment...and the laugh :>) stay groovy...


Actually, the saying is "couldn't care less."
To say someone "could care less" makes no grammatical or logical sense.

If someone "could care less," then, by all means, they should feel free to do so. Read your Strunk and White.


Thats it? So who is supposed to care? People are out of work, homes are falling down hills and you report this garbage? I'll bet the founders of this once great newpaper are really proud.


You Times people do not get it. "So, I guess that means the Enquirer is a reliable source now, huh?" The Enquirer beat you to a story. Repeat. The Enquirer beat you to a story...because you refused to run a negative piece on a Democrat. Wake up morons.


The government should force these propaganda mills to apologize when they report something that isn't true during the same time slots as they spread their lies. It's amazing to me how much blatant lying occurs on a daily basis on television news shows.

Belinda Gomez

LATimes reporters often editorialize in a story, as any Patterico reader knows. http://patterico.com/category/dog-trainer/


"In a stunning blow to Democrats, Republican Scott Brown ended the party’s half-century grip on the Senate seat once held by Edward M. Kennedy, coming from nowhere to give the GOP the crucial 41st vote that could thwart President Obama and his agenda, starting with healthcare."

Stunning to you, maybe



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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