Anonymous Sources, Part I – Bad Manners

This is Part I of a three-part series. 


The other day, I went to the Society for Professional Journalists website. 

No, not just out of idle curiosity.  But we’ll get to that a bit later.

The SPJ has a page devoted to its ethics code.  The whole thing is worth a read; you can learn a lot about the core of the craft, as well as the things that real journalists are taught to strive for as they do their jobs.  I was one of them, once; I did radio and freelance print news, way back when.  I wasn’t very successful – I’m not doing it now! – but a couple of editors said I was good, or at least not bad, at it.   

A couple of the items from the code caught my attention.  I’m going to add emphasis here and there.  You’ll see why, eventually:

— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.


Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.

Never plagiarize.

There’s also an entire section entitled “Be Accountable”, which notes that “Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other”, and tells them to:

— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

And finally, there’s this last bit here; journalists should…:

— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.

So I guess today I’m going to be a journalist.


Local center-right bloggers have been piling on Minnesota Monitor since before the last election.  The piliing-on stems, mainly, from a couple of things:  the Monitor’s funding (from the “Center for Independent Media”, a DC-based non-profit that started life sharing offices with George Soros’ “Media Matters For America” attack-PR firm), and its staff (a group of leftybloggers with long track records of ideological snarkblogging). 

The Monitor – which calls its’ staff “Citizen Journalist Fellows” rather than “guys in their mom’s basement who blog in their pajamas” and pays them a stipend for blogging on schedule and to purported journalistic standards – has attempted to class up the joint a couple of different ways:

  • by publishing a “Code of Ethics” of its very own.  This code reads almost identically to the SPJ’s code – and indeed the code itself notes “The New Journalist Code of Ethics was inspired by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.”
  • Hiring an actual journalist, Eric Black.  Black needs no introduction to readers of this blog; he’s a guy with over three decades of experience in the field, and comes to the Monitor with warehouses full of credibility and gravitas. He is no Cucking Stool.

So it’s established; while the Monitor’s tone is explicitly “progressive”, they are slathering the veneer of journalism over the operation. 

Fair enough.  Let’s run with that. 

We’ll come back to that, too.


Bloggers, of course, have no published code of ethics.  But among reputable bloggers – or bloggers who strive to be reputable – there are at least a few generally-accepted standards.  Plagiarism, of course, is very bad form, and can be punished mercilessly (anyone remember “The Agonist?”).  Another one – prominently label any corrections that are germane to the fundamental facts of a story – ties in closely with one of the articles in the SPJ and the Minnesota Monitor’s codes of conduct: the injunction to “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly”.  It’s why whenever a good blogger changes a fundamental fact in their story, they’ll put something at the bottom of the posting.  For example…:

“UPDATE:  Commenter BillVanNassouwe points out that Councilman Royce was convicted of shoplifting, not high treason.  I’ve changed the story above.  Sorry about the bobble”. 

It’s just good blogging manners, along with that whole “journalistic ethics” thing.

Oh, and one other thing; if you pull a quote from an online source, you link to it.  If you don’t, it is – at the very least – a gaffe.


On Monday, the Monitor ran this story on its front page, under Jeff Fecke’s byline…

…well, no.  That’s not exactly what happened.  Let’s construct a timeline.

  1. On Monday, the Monitor ran this story under Fecke’s byline.  It is reproduced verbatim below the fold in this posting; a PDF file made from the screen capture is available for those who want to check the veracity of my copy/paste job for themselves.
  2. Michael Brodkorb – my friend, Northern Alliance Radio Network colleague, and Minnesota Democrats Exposed blogger – noticed a couple of things (which will be explained later).  He took the screen shot of the story.
  3. Brodkorb then left a comment in the story’s thread at the Monitor questioning the sourcing of a few of the statements in Fecke’s article.  He asked Fecke “Did you interview Chairman Carey?  Did he give you the “90 percent probability” quote?”
  4. Fecke respondedtwice – and then edited the piece…
  5. …which was re-published in this form.  About this time, the story fell off the blog’s front page. 

Note that at no time did the posting explictly say “some facts in this story were changed”.  No update notice was posted.  The casual reader  might never know any part of the story’s content had changed. 

And what happened?


Fecke changed three words. 

  • In the second paragraph, he removed a word: “Leslie Sandberg, communications director for the Mike Ciresi campaign, issued a statement to Minnesota Monitor saying, “We’re going to abide by the endorsement, and our campaign looks forward to having many supporters show up whether the caucuses are held in February or March”.  OK – good edit, removing a colloquialism that any editor would have insisted be cut. 
  • In paragraph six, he added a word (flagged in blue): “GOP leaders have indicated support for the switch, with GOP chair Ron Carey reportedly saying there is a “90 percent probability” of a change”
  • And in paragraph seven, the same basic change: ” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, has said his office will facilitate a change, reportedly saying, “We’re here to be helpful to the parties if the parties want to move in that direction.”

“Three friggin’ words, Berg?  This is a scandal?  Criminy”.

Of course it’s not a scandal.  Nobody’s that anal-retentive, right?  Adding two lousy words is hardly a journalistic faux-pas; it barely qualifies as a blogging flub. 

Of course, it would have been a better thing had Fecke noted in his post that these corrections, piddling as they seem, had been made.  But it’s no big deal, right?


Until you dig behind the corrections.

We’ll get to that in our next installment, Part II, on Friday.

 The following is a direct copy and paste of a PDF of the Minnesota Monitor’s original piece on this subject:

With the DFL and GOP increasingly likely to move the 2008 caucuses to “Super Duper Tuesday” on February 5, DFL senate campaigns expressed general support for the idea. And none of the campaigns indicated the date would change their decision to abide by the endorsement process.

Leslie Sandberg, communications director for the Mike Ciresi campaign, issued a statement to Minnesota Monitor saying, “We’re going to abide by the endorsement, and our campaign looks forward to having many supporters show up whether the caucuses are held in February or March.” Ciresi had previously stated the campaign could reconsider their decision to abide if the date was moved.

Jess McIntosh, communications director for the Franken campaign, was equally positive. “While we can’t believe that no one has come up with a better name than `Super-Duper Tuesday,’ we’re glad Minnesotans may be able to be a part of it. And we’re excited about increased participation in the caucuses.”

The Bob Olson campaign did not immediately have an official statement, but campaign manager Eric Mitchell said that the move was “good for Minnesotans,” and that it would hopefully increase participation in the caucuses.

The Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer campaign could not be immediately reached for comment.

Minnesota appears likely to become the 24th state to hold its primary or caucus on February 5, which is rapidly becoming a de facto national primary. While the state has not officially moved the caucus date, both DFL and Minnesota GOP leaders have indicated support for the switch, with GOP chair Ron Carey saying there is a “90 percent probability” of a change, and the DFL already giving preliminary approval to the plan.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a Democrat, has said his office will facilitate a change, saying “We’re here to be helpful to the parties if the parties want to move in that direction.”

14 thoughts on “Anonymous Sources, Part I – Bad Manners

  1. Good thing Minnesota Monitor is small potatoes, because not attributing (or at least linking to, for crying out loud) the source of the “90 percent probability” quote would typically be considered: what’s the word boys and girls? PLAGIARISM.

    Not that Fecke would be aware of something obvious like that, what with his lofty position as a “Citizen Journalist Fellow.” ROTFLMAO!

  2. I would think that after all the criticism that Fecke has absorbed from various NARN and MOB members about his ‘journalism’, he would attempt to elevate the quality of his work.

    Apparently I thought wrong.

  3. But “the other day” can still mean “three years ago,” right?

    Just checking.

  4. The other day can not mean a day in the past? What exactly are the rules on that? How old is Inhofe? My grandfather could says something happened the other day and it could be back a decade. My niece on the other hand, is only 6. The other day to her doesnt go back any farther than yesterday. Myself, comfortably past middle 40’s, have started to notice major events that happened in the very near past (in my memory) are actually years old. Katrina for instance, which I would have bet was last summer, was actually almost 2 years ago. Why I remember learning about hurricanes just the other day, when I was in grade school………….

  5. Let me take a stab at it…

    Gee buzzkill, sometimes they’re nice and let you out of the retirement home to poke at a computer, eh? Obviously, you meandered hither and yon, enough to lose your handler.

    *bows* Thank you, I’ll be here ’til Tuesday. Try the veal and remember to tip your waitress. you’ve been a wonderful audience.

  6. “The other day”, “Three years ago”…it all depends on what the meaning of “is” is.
    The whole point here is that journalists should have a higher ethical standard than politicians.
    Shouldn’t they?

  7. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Anonymous Sources, Part III - In Someone Else’s Words

  8. Pingback: Shot in the Dark » Blog Archive » Yellow

  9. Pingback: “MNReformer”: Garbage In, Garbage Out, Part I | Shot in the Dark

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.