Saturday, March 4, 2017

Siege Engines

(See: Just Above Sunset: Siege Engines)

Halfway through reading this “Siege Engines” column, I was preparing to comment, asking the question of who is sieging whom, but then saw Andrew Sullivan asking the same question. Given your setup of the siegee always losing, I’d say it’s Trump who has the strong hand here, since there’s not much any of us can do about this but sit and hope for some help from the outside — which, at this point doesn’t exist — or else wait for the sieger to accidentally shoot himself in the head — which, in our case, still seems to be a real possibility.

As I write this, there's so-called “Breaking News” (is there any other kind anymore?) on CNN of our so-called president tweeting that he just learned that Obama tapped his Trump Tower phones back in October. I haven’t heard any details yet, but it may very well be “fake news”, the only question being whether the faking is being done by the mainstream media, or alternatively, by the so-called White House.

After all, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, while we have no examples of the former, we definitely do of the latter — or at least we allegedly do, from some possible “alternative facts” given to CNN’s Sara Murray by some anonymous "senior administration official”, that some other "senior administration official” (which turned out to be — surprise! surprise! — Donald Trump!) “lied” to the press (that’s my word for it; the White House didn’t call it that, they called it a “misdirection play”) when he promised he was going to reveal himself to be a humane and reasonable man in his speech to Congress that night, while in fact his real plan turned out to be that, although speaking in his inside voice in the speech, he would be the same shithead that more than half the nation already knew him to be.

Then again, we can’t be sure he lied, since we never can be sure that he didn’t just forget what was in the speech, although he’s also been known to change his mind between the time he says he’s going to do something and when he actually does it. Maybe the “misdirection play” claim was itself just some “misdirection play” of its own, a coverup of sorts, just to make Trump look less like an idiot, as if he did it on purpose. Although I could be wrong about all that. 

(HEY, ARE YOU STILL AWAKE? Don’t fall asleep! That’s just what they want you to do!)

Given the fact that Trump has publicly admitted he likes to keep everyone guessing, will we ever know for sure when he’s lying and when he’s only lying about being a liar? My guess is, no, we probably won’t.

And that brings us back to the question that was being asked the other day:

If the media knows the White House will be lying to us all the time, shouldn’t it just boycott them?

My answer is, tempting as that is, no. The reason is, the purpose for media coverage of the White House isn’t just for whatever actual information they might give to the American people, but also just to report what they say, whether it be a lie or the truth. And if we have reason to believe it’s not the truth? Then we also report that, making sure we back it up with evidence.

As for off-the-record “backgrounders”, we should be very careful and use our best judgement before using whatever information they give us, since we already have good reason to know it may not be true.

As for "not revealing confidential sources”? That’s a little trickier. Here are some guidelines on use of anonymous sources from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ):
Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. … 
The SPJ Code of Ethics contains two pointed statements on anonymous sources:
1. Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability. ... 
2. Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
But is it okay to include in your agreement with the source, that “If I find out that you, the source, have deliberately lied to me, our deal is off, and I may just feel free at that point to reveal my source, whether you like it or not"?

This SPJ position paper doesn't say anything about that.

Still, maybe you could try it, but if you do, I’d advise you to do it very carefully, since you’ll be messing with long-standing ethical traditions — and upending ethical traditions may be something best left to the likes of Donald Trump.

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