Thursday, August 28, 2008

Says Who?

"Hezbollah's presence in Venezuela draws concern"
Only... there is nothing in the article (which seems to be a much shorter variation of one that appears in the LA Times) that actually points to any Hezbollah boots on the ground in Venezuela. The fact that the Chavez government has adopted an "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" stance towards Iran, does not, in and of itself, establish that Venezuela is willing to allow "The Party of God" to set up shop there.

"Agents of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have allegedly set up a special force to attempt to kidnap Jewish businesspeople in Latin America and spirit them to Lebanon, according to the Western anti-terrorism official." Wow - if this doesn't get the anonymouse award of the century, I don't know what does. We lack not only a name, agency and position, but even the country of origin or any real reason why the source needs to remain anonymous. Come now, I could make the case that some flunky who figures out what to do with the checks from DHS in Wyoming counts as "a Western anti-terrorism official." And we also don't know who's making the referenced allegations - the anonymous source could have pulled them out of his ass, for all that we really know. You couldn't get information this poorly sourced onto Wikipedia - they'd flag you for using "weasel words" in a heartbeat. (Although I admit to finding the parallel to Israel's kidnapping of wanted members of the Third Reich, and smuggling them to Israel to be an interesting one.)

Dean Starkman of the Columbia Journalism Review, in one of Jack Shafer's Press Box articles, says that journalists should not allow "interested parties to blowdart enemies from the blinds in news pages" through anonymous sourcing. That seems to be exactly what is happening here. Someone's drumming up fear around Venezuela by insinuating that their relationship with Iran is an open door for Hezbollah to walk through and start terror attacks - essentially claiming that Hugo Chavez' government is on the path to being a State Sponsor of Terrorism. All without a shred of real evidence. As Shafer later points out "If a source has an interest in the way a story is written, he'll do his best to play the reporter. This is true whether the source is on the record or cited anonymously. And the more anonymity he's given, the greater his opportunity to play the reporter and hence the reader."

Shafer has created a web form to report over-reliance on anonymous sources, so I called this out to him. I suspect a lot of people flagged this particular article, so we'll see if he says anything about it in his next Press Box column about Anonymice. I hope he does. Because someone's really trying to play us here.

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