Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, September 28, 2007

Journalistic Masturbation?

A Reuters reporter has been found interviewing himself. James Taranto investigates.

From Reuters:

By Noor Mohammad Sherzai

BATI KOT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least one U.S. soldier opened fire to scatter a crowd of civilians and police on Thursday after failed suicide bomb attacks on a U.S. military convoy, the U.S. military and witnesses said. . . .

"I saw the fire brigade vehicle rushing to the area at top speed. Somehow its brakes failed and hit one police vehicle and coalition vehicles, then the Americans started firing," said Reuters correspondent Noor Mohammad Sherzai.

That's right, Noor Mohammad Sherzai is quoting himself! (Or herself, as Noor apparently is an epicene name.)

We thought this was odd, but we wanted a second opinion. So we spoke with veteran journalist James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal. "You're right, it is odd," he told us. "But it's another example of Reuters' journalistic innovation. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter? One man's monologue is another man's interview. Oh wait, but who's the other man?"

Taranto added that Sherzai "obviously had to do some legwork for this story. He tried to get a phone interview with himself, but every time he called, the line was busy."

We asked Taranto if using oneself as a source entails any special ethical concerns. "There could be a tendency to quote yourself in ways that reinforce your own unconscious bias," he said. That hadn't occurred to us, but what a great point!

"There are also interesting issues of confidentiality," Taranto said. "On the one hand, you're less likely to have misunderstandings about just what is meant by 'off the record,' 'background,' and so forth. But on the other hand, if it comes down to it, are you willing to go to jail to protect your source? And if you go to jail and your source is yourself, are you really protecting your source?"

A source close to Taranto, speaking on condition of anonymity because he thought it would be good for a laugh, said, "I don't think [Taranto is] entirely serious about this."

We concluded our chat with Taranto by telling him that we were thinking of mocking Noor Mohammad Sherzai by writing an item based on our own self-interview. Although we were the one interviewing him, Taranto replied with a question:

"What do you mean 'we,' Kemo Sabe?"

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