“Trust me” journalism, TIME style

TIME - 20 Jan 2014On display today:  journalism-as-an-op-ed: juicy on claims, thin on sources.

Center court: “A Nightmare Returns” (print title) in the January 20, 2014 edition of TIME. Journalist, Aryn Baker, the magazine’s Middle East Bureau Chief: a title you have to discover by searching the TIME website, no biographical details in print, no bio link online.

The first named source occurs in the fifth paragraph. And that source, the Institute for the Study of War, is arguably pro-war/intervention, given that its funding comes from the war industry, such as Tomahawk missile designer Raytheon, F-16 manufacturer General Dynamics and private military company DynCorp. In fact, there are no non-vested interest sources named. [1]

Here are a few of the unsourced claims just in the first four paragraphs:

  • Fallujah, Iraq, is where “U.S. forces redeemed the possibility of a peaceful Iraq … in a costly but successful effort to clear the city of insurgents and make it safe for handover to Iraqi government forces.”
  • Fallujah has fallen to “a powerful al-Qaeda affiliate that is among the most feared in the Middle East. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)…”
  • “By Sunday night (which Sunday?), ISIS fighters had reportedly (by whom?) taken down and burned all the Iraqi flags [replacing them with] the black banner of al-Qaeda.”
  • Abu Bakr a-Baghdadi “has risen in the ranks of al-Qaeda as few other local affiliate leaders” and has “even been so brazen as to pick a fight with Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.”
  • The U.S. State Department has put a $10 million “price tag … on his head.” [WTH? We have "wanted dead or alive" bounties like in the Old West? Well, not exactly >> up to $10 million for "information leading to location" is both truthful and accurate but not as catchy -- or emotionally manipulative -- as a "price tag … on his head."]
  • “Baghdadi and ISIS represent a clear and present danger to America’s allies …” (emphasis added because this is, well, one of the phrases Presidents use to justify conflict).
  • “Baghdadi’s jihadists are now as large a day-to-day influence on civilians’ lives in areas they control as any al-Qaeda group since bin Laden’s men enjoyed the freedom of pre-9/11 Afghanistan.”

Part of me wants to research and verify or refute those claims. But this isn’t a fact-check article.

It’s a fact-request article.

Many of those claims cannot be fact-checked because they are opinions and judgments. With “journalism” like that demonstrated in this piece, the reader must trust the journalist to be both factual and truthful.

Hmm. Trust?

I don’t know about you, but I set aside my rose-colored glasses when I read mainstream media exposes on Iraq, terrorism, government surveillance — anything that clashes with the current powers-that-be.[2] And we should all know how important it is to be skeptical of foreign policy essays in TIMEgiven its editorial history regarding communism and war.

After all, how many readers understand TIME’s history? Or the fact that articles like this one are not “news.” Although I’m picking on TIME, it’s not alone in this sort of “reporting.” Here’s The Guardian on Iraq from January 5: count the sources in the first half of the article, then check the bona fides of those in the second half.

Just as I’m weary of both unnamed sources and “he said/she said” journalism, I am also weary of the opinion column being passed off as news. Dear TIME et al: you want a slant to what you publish? Then NAME it.

 

Notes

[1] There are a total of five named and two unnamed sources in the 22-paragraph, four-page story. Each source is cited once.
Named:

  1. Graph 4, Lewis
  2. Graph 8, Abdul Rahman Hamad, an ISIS fighter who “is recovering from injuries in a safe house in Tripoli, Lebanon”
  3. Graph 16, Seth Jones, Rand Corp (Wikipedia entry)
  4. Graph 17, Charles Lister, Brookings Doha Center in Qatar (Wikipedia entry)
  5. Graph 20, U.S. Congressman Mike Rogers (R-8th, Wikipedia entry), chair, House Intelligence Committee (October 2013 speech) and Matthew G. Olson (Wikipedia entry), director U.S. National Counterterrorism Center (November 2013 testimony)

Unnamed:

  1. Graph 9, a Hizballah intelligence official
  2. Graph 15, a Western aid worker based in Turkey (organization not named, either, to “protect from reprisal”)

[2] We know to be skeptical when reading openly advocacy pubs like Rolling Stone and The Nation or The Weekly Standard and National Review.

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