Friday, April 5, 2013

Who Said, She Said

“I have been raped twice, so I think I can handle Mitch McConnell.”
Ashley Judd*
* Maybe.

This comment was reported by the Huffington Post last month, and may have helped demolish any chance that Judd had of successfully running for the Senate seat currently held by Mitch McConnell. Given that political operatives were already turning over the rocks in an attempt to find useable dirt on the actress/activist's past, it seemed that she was being taken seriously by the Republicans, and a statement like this would have been attack-ad gold.

Except for the small fact that maybe it didn't actually happen. An advisor to Judd says that she made no such comment. In response the journalist who broke the story says “that Judd didn't announce this comment to the rest of the dinner's guests, only his source,” and that he doesn't know who else heard it.

Hurray for anonymice.

I understand the drive to get scoops and whatnot. But here we have a comment that can't be corroborated because no-one else may have ever heard it, and it's impossible to question the source, because no-one knows who that is, other than the fact that they were “a Judd supporter.” (You'll excuse me, however, if I'm skeptical about the idea of someone who supported Ashley Judd running for Senate telling a reporter about a comment that seemed tailor made to scuttle her chances of actually winning an election in today's political climate.)

I get that anonymous sources make journalism easier. People are more willing to step up and talk about things that others might not want made public if they're reasonably sure that they won't face retaliation. But anonymous sources also make disinformation easier because they can be difficult, if not impossible, to either evaluate or validate. And they also lend themselves to a “some say” style of journalism, where readers are left to chose what to believe in a vacuum - and so they go with what easiest, or what fits in with what they already want to believe. And I just don't see how that's informative.

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