As Government Officials Continue To Shed Trustworthiness, Journalists Continue Placing More Trust In Government Officials

from the they're-supposed-to-earn-it-before-you-give-it-to-them dept

Despite the current administration’s track record on transparency (completely lousy from nearly every angle), there’s little being done by the majority of the press to work around the roadblocks being set up by the government. While the administration has offered a few half-measures aimed at reining in the NSA in the wake of the leaks, the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) has gone the other way, forbidding employees from speaking to the media about even unclassified information.

The media claims to be more interested in exposing government wrongdoing than ever before, but it is less willing to get its hands dirty doing it, according to a study by the Indiana University of Journalism.

One of the most surprising developments over that period over the past ten years, is the steep decline in the percentage of journalists who say that using confidential documents without permission “may be justified.” That number has plummeted from about 78 percent in 2002 to just 58 percent in 2013. In 1992, it was over 80 percent.

That’s even more notable given that the survey took place from August to December of last year, not long after Edward Snowden became a household name for stealing classified documents that revealed the extent of NSA surveillance. The journalists who worked with him to share that information with the public won the Pulitzer Prize last month.

There are several theories as to the drop in the number of journalists willing to publish leaks or push reluctant individuals for information. Some of that is the political climate. The report notes that journalists identify themselves as Democrats at a rate of 4-to-1 over Republicans, so there may be some deferral to the “home team” administration. Backing this theory up is the fact that the highest numbers listed here were recorded during the two Bush presidencies.

Then there’s the general chill against whistleblowing, one that has never been colder than it is right now. It’s been well documented that the Obama administration has prosecuted more than twice as many whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. Post-Wikileaks and post-Manning, there aren’t too many journalism outlets willing to sacrifice freedom for a story.

Other, more questionable methods (hidden mics, confidential informants, buying documents), are on the decline as well. Again, the administration’s aggressive push to snuff out leaks is partly to blame, as well as the legal ramifications of questionable tactics deployed by UK tabloids, which have raised the ire of both that nation’s politicians as well as the targets of these “investigative” efforts. Better safe than jailed/fined/sued, it would appear.

But there’s another downside to this, one that plays right into the hands of the self-declared “most transparent administration,” as Kevin Gostola at Firedoglake points out.

The Associated Press found, when conducting its annual review of responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, that the “government more than ever censored materials it turned over or fully denied access to them, in 244,675 cases or 36 percent of all requests. On 196,034 other occasions, the government said it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the government determined the request to be unreasonable or improper.” The media organization concluded the “government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.”

First, you seal off the documents. Then, you start threatening the access. Faced with this, it appears many journalistic entities have decided to defer to authority and simply publish unquestioned statements from officials unwilling to back up their words with a name.

The number one complaint most New York Times readers tend to have is that reporters are overly reliant on anonymous sources for information. Public editor Margaret Sullivan has written about this issue, suggesting “readers are right to protest when they see anonymity granted gratuitously” but also acknowledging the crackdown on leaks by the Obama administration may have something to do with people unwilling to talk to reporters on the record.

The number of “anonymous officials” is on the rise, partly due to the administration’s own dim view of sharing info with the press. But this makes any statement made completely questionable. If the official is afforded anonymity, there’s no accountability. And yet, these statements are delivered by the press in a largely credulous fashion.

What Gostola sees this boiling down to is the most cherished of journalistic tools: access. Journalists are unwilling to sacrifice access for better, harder-hitting reporting. Being shut out means falling behind, even if your integrity remains intact. And an anonymous source is still one more source than is available to those locked out due to their aggressive reporting, even if the statements are little more than rephrased talking points.

The problem is that, despite this evidence, the media still believes it’s an effective means of government accountability, even as this same government has convinced many of them that they have neither the expertise nor the right to publish leaked documents or otherwise route around official outlets. Two journalistic outlets went the other way and received Pulitzers for doing so, but in the eyes of many others, publishing leaks still “isn’t journalism.” But somehow, taking anonymous statements at face value is.

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Comments on “As Government Officials Continue To Shed Trustworthiness, Journalists Continue Placing More Trust In Government Officials”

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ECA (profile) says:

Its what

Its WHAT people watch/see, as news..
And In my opinion, a democratic nation can not survive without knowing what is happening in our gov..
We can not CHOOSE, if we only pick what is in front of us, as we can be fed BS. There is no real choice.
Its an interesting thought that no democratic nation has only 2 parties EXCEPT the USA..
And between the two there isnt much choice anyway..
We are ruled by puppets, of Puppets, and their masters..

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Its what

Huh-nothing is really changing many countries have effectively only two parties. Certainly in the UK it has almost always been the case – Here is a song from Iolanthe (written towards the end of the 19th century):

From ?Iolanthe?

PRIVATE WILLIS, on sentry duty in front of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.


WHEN all night long a chap remains
On sentry-go, to chase monotony
He exercises of his brains,
That is, assuming that he?s got any.
Though never nurtured in the lap 5
Of luxury, yet I admonish you,
I am an intellectual chap,
And think of things that would astonish you.
I often think it?s comical?Fal lal la!
How Nature always does contrive?Fal lal la! 10
That every boy and every gal
That?s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal lal la! 15

When in that House M. P.?s divide,
If they?ve a brain and cerebellum, too,
They?ve got to leave that brain outside,
And vote just as their leaders tell ?em to.
But then the prospect of a lot 20
Of dull M. P.?s in close proximity,
All thinking for themselves, is what
No man can face with equanimity.
Then let?s rejoice with loud Fal lal?Fal lal la!
That Nature wisely does contrive?Fal lal la! 25
That every boy and every gal
That?s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
Fal lal la!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The media are whores

There used to be a really good site by FDA employees documenting the corruption in the FDA many years back. It eventually mysteriously went away too …

and what happened to the site full disclosure

Slowly slowly ‘the powers that be’ are corrupting the political system and working to keep everyone ignorant of all the corruption. Just like they did with broadcast and cableco television they will work to do the same thing to the Internet. Because it’s much easier for them to work dishonestly (or to strive to work dishonestly) and keep the people ignorant than it is for them to work honestly and keep the people informed.

Anonymous Coward says:

The report notes that a growing number of journalists believe their government “watchdog” role is extremely important, but that their methods have become less aggressive because of commercial pressure. Seems like a vicious cycle to me. The Internet cuts into a news outlet’s market share, so they water down their work to not offend, making themselves less distinguishable/useful relative to spew on the internet, meaning they lose more market share to the Internet, so they water down some more…

From the report: “Overall, this trend toward a more ?gentle? journalism in the United States might be a reflection of the growing commercial pressures the U.S. media have faced during the past two decades. Investigative reporting is a costly endeavor and might scare away audiences that do not appreciate aggressive journalism.”

Link to report:

Rocco Maglio (profile) says:

Journalist are mostly partisan hacks

The problem is that most journalist have a party (team). It is fine to do these things to help your team, but if this happens to your team it is wrong. The survey picks an interesting year in 2002, which was right after 9/11/2001. There was a strong feeling of nationalism that year. I would be more interested in seeing a study that used different years.

Anonymous Coward says:


That’s mainly an American phenomenon. Class all those (party/team) “journalists” as one. They are the same. All that division is a distraction from the pro establishment evolution reality.

Evolution… because only the pro establishment survive.

The study is over three decades. 2002 is irrelevant for some of the questions.

Getting employed to gain inside information (as a journalist)
Look at how that has fallen. That used to be a classic “journalist exposes” tactic. The “undercover reporter”. The “long con”. I can’t see a journalist surviving after trying to expose a company that donates to a politician or has adverts on their network.

I disagree because I think party politics is mostly irrelevant. Mainstream journalism is fundamentally corrupted.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

If only they kept working to have sources, rather than abandoning the age old hard work of cultivating sources to keep access to the White House.

I guess it is another part of the black/white, zero-sum gamesmanship we have gleefully accepted.

If a President banned a reporter from the White House because of an unfavorable but truthful report, the public would have raised the roof… but today it is all about the spin. We accept bias in reporting, because it supports what we want to believe despite actual facts.

Journalism is now just window dressing for PR spin, I long for the days when reporters were more worried if they story was true than if the fallout might cause trouble for the corporation.

GEMont (profile) says:

silly humans

“As Government Officials Continue To Shed Trustworthiness, Journalists Continue Placing More Trust In Government Officials”

If confused about why, I suggest examining exactly who owns the media outlets and thus pays the media journalists, or rather, does not pay them if they do not do as they are told.

Like the Federal Government that they “trust”, the Truth-Free Press is a corporate owned entity. They are both owned by the same people who are about to make SOPA the law of the land.

What the hell did you expect?
When did these things ever help purchase a yacht??

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