The Washington Post, like many news organizations, says it is trying to crack down on the use of anonymous sources. But the paper allowed a "senior administration official" to spin the story of the slow response to Katrina -- with a claim that turned out to be false.On the desk? Try the floor.
On Sept. 4, the paper cited the "senior Bush official" as saying that as of the day before, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco "still had not declared a state of emergency." As The Post noted in a correction, Blanco, a Democrat, had declared a state of emergency on Aug. 26.
... Post National Editor Michael Abramowitz calls the incident "a bad mistake" that happened right on deadline. "We all feel bad about that," he says. "We should not have printed the information as background information, and it should have been checked. We fell down on the desk."
But, okay, at least Abramowitz seems to be taking responsibility for this major lapse in journalistic standards.
However, Kurtz then proceeds to quote the article's co-author, Spencer Hu. Hu sounds anything but contrite, and he betrays a certain naivete:
Spencer Hsu, the article's co-author, says he "tried to make clear that the source came from the administration, and that he was blaming the locals, which I believe our story made clear and broke ground in explaining by uncovering the National Guard dispute."One cannot say with certainty whether the senior Bush official was lying. But Hsu wants us to accept the notion that The Post has no "reason to believe" that the senior Bush official "lied deliberately"? Please.
Should the paper identify the source who provided bad information? "We don't blow sources, period, especially if we don't have reason to believe the source in this case actually lied deliberately," Hsu says.
The very fact that the Bush official requested anonymity provides some reason to believe he or she had bad intentions. After all, whether or not Gov. Blanco had declared a state of emergency by a certain date is a matter of public record -- it's not a he-said, she-said dispute. It can be independently verified (and should have been, but perhaps Hsu didn't want to be late for the baseball game or the theater that evening).
Hsu wants us to conclude that the Bush White House (or this one "senior" official) simply made a clumsy mistake with the facts. What's Hsu putting in his coffee every morning?
I don't know what's more disturbing -- a) the fact that Kurtz's quotes make Hsu appear so chilled-out over this breach of journalistic integrity, or b) the fact that about news and events is partially dependent on someone as naive as Hsu.