A reader asked Washington Post military correspondent Thomas Ricks in an online chat (WashingtonPost.com, 5/8/07; cited in Editor & Publisher, 5/8/07) why we were hearing so much about Iranian weapons in Iraq, but “we hardly ever see the press actually ask about the pretty well-known trail of money that leads from Saudi Arabia to the insurgents.” Ricks’ answer was instructive:
Just yesterday I asked a Defense official about this and got almost nothing from him.
Actually, Ricks exposes not the “vulnerabilities of journalism” but the failures of journalists in his response. Clearly, Bush administration officials are interested parties with a long track record of dubious intelligence claims. Somehow, though, if they say something previously said by less politically invested people on the ground—who are in a better position to know the facts—it magically transforms from “rumor” into something worth publishing.
If your job is to inform the public, that makes no sense; it only follows if you see your role as transmitting the official line. —J.N.