Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fun with news standards

And how do the big-name correspondents at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network handle campaign news from the home team?

Senior insiders to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann say the Republican founder of the House Tea Party caucus is now very likely to run for president.

In the wake of both Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump opting out of the 2012 race, calls to Bachmann's offices "have been burning up our lines" according to a Bachmann confidant who marveled, "one guy called her our Margaret Thatcher!"


Like a lot of other rules and guidelines (that pesky innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff, for example), the standards for anonymous sourcing tend to be thrown out the window pretty fast when something seems like Big News. I don't know what rules Fox plays under,* but here's a representative entry from the AP Stylebook:

... Material from anonymous sources may be used only if:

  • The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.
  • The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
  • The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.
... Explain in the story why the source requested anonymity. And, when it's relevant, describe the source's motive for disclosing the information.

The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source's credibility; simply quoting  "a source" is not allowed.

It's fair to infer, I think, that the intent of sourcing policies like this is more to keep you from looking evil than from looking stupid. It's to encourage "the secret report says X, Y, and Z" as opposed to "he sure sounds guilty to all right-thinking patriots." And it's hard to say that even a casual reader would be surprised to find that Fox -- its news operation, not its opinionators -- is in essence the armed propaganda wing of the Republican Party. But one function of the lowly copy editor is to remind even the stars on the payroll that appearances are to be kept up. That means not letting too many unnamed confidants do too much marveling, particularly with direct quotes and exclamation points.



*If anyone knows of a Fox stylebook or standards-n-practices guide, I'd love to see one.

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