This column is a column for politicians and prospective politicians in America to ask questions about “How things work” before they take office. This week’s question comes from New York Congresswoman-Elect Alexandria Cortez who asks, “When is a journalist required to cite a source?”
Answer: The simple answer is never, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. It’s the same as asking, “When is a politician required to tell the truth?” or “How many broken promises is a politician allowed to have?”
For an official answer, you can check out what the Society of Professional Journalists has to say on this topic, but these days, journalism that adheres to SPJ guidelines has become an endangered species.
Both questions have very similar answers. While the official answer should be “whenever possible”, the reality is, there are no rules or regulations. In fact, both professions are well protected by law in these instances. No law or rule cites a journalist EVER has to cite sources. However, a journalist who doesn’t cite sources better be sure his or her sources are correct because if you make a habit out of writing bad stories with bad information, citing anonymous sources, you probably won’t have a long career and an even smaller reader base.
Oh heck, who are we kidding, MSNBC and CNN make a good living citing bad sources. So does the New York Times…but whether or not the Times makes a good living is debatable at this point. Those media outlets consistently pass bogus information to their audience who eats it up as fact.
Just like a politician who makes tons of campaign promises on the campaign trail, no law requires him…or her to stick to those promises. Take for instance Chuck Schumer who just lashed out at President Donald J. Trump for keeping to his “petty” campaign trail promises. It’s unheard of in the place you will be going, let’s hope you won’t become “one of them”. It’s kind of like a slate of young progressive candidates telling their constituents they are going to D.C. to raise hell and teach the old-guard how things work, only to find out they took money from that old guard and have already fallen in line with them, because that is what Washington, D.C. is all about…falling in line.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is fortunate because falling in line with Nancy Pelosi isn’t dangerous for her re-election, unlike her friends here in Jersey, Andy Kim and Jeff Van Drew, who also waged war against the ruling class of their party. For those two, they have been given a pass and can publicly not fall in line and keep up the charade because publicly falling in line here could mean you’re a one-term Congressman…this of course was told to me by an anonymous source within the DCCC.
See what I did there? I made a claim about Andy Kim and Jeff Van Drew being given a pass to continue their fake “anti-Pelosi” campaign because if they fall in behind Pelosi, they’re toast when their terms are up. Who told me? Somebody told me. Do I know if their claim is correct? I don’t, but this person has always been a reliable source within Democrat circles for me and I have no reason to doubt them now. Even if it’s not true…it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it’s a source that I trust enough to keep anonymous so they can keep feeding me goodies.
What is Andy Kim going to do anyway? Nothing. There’s nothing he can do. I don’t ever have to give up my sources. It’s just how it works. My source could be the mailman who delivers mail to the office and speaks to the secretary who divulges classified DCCC intel. It could also be the guy who stands next to Andy Kim at every rally he has. He’ll never know, but that’s his job to figure that out. If I was required to cite my source, guess what? No more source and the politician gains a power over the media they should not have. That’s just how America works. This isn’t Russia where the media is beholden to or has any obligation whatsoever to the government.
If I’m wrong, the public will hold me accountable…at least we hope that’s how it works. Just how a politician who breaks campaign promises…or worse, allegedly traveled to foreign countries to have sex with underaged prostitutes would be held accountable…wait…nevermind.
Whether or not you got into a fight in a caucus is irrelevant. The fact is somebody in that closed-door meeting told the folks at Politico you did…now, Politico should have probably contacted you to see if that was true, but again, they don’t have to. The SPJ would recommend that all sides be given an opportunity to be heard, but nobody does that anymore. If they did and it was true, would you have admitted to the fact that you and Congressman Pallone had an argument? I would say you probably would not admit to it or even have given that reporter the time of day for a response. That’s what politicians do. They don’t tell the full truth. Then, they deflect and blame others…these days, the media.
So the question now to ask you, in light of your guarantee of openness, is what transpired in that caucus meeting that would lead somebody in the room to run to politico and provide them with that information. Let me guess, it was a political caucus and you are not required to tell anyone a damn thing about what transpired…we’ve been down that road countless times in this profession. As a journalist, I know the chances of any politician discussing caucus conversations is just something that will never happen…because we DO know what goes on in those meetings and maybe it’s better for everyone that we don’t know because public trust in government is thin enough without us knowing the deals being made behind closed doors.
What was the topic of the discussion? Was there a disagreement? We all want to know how the sausage is made in Washington, D.C., and we are all looking to you to become that person who tells us.
As far as being upset by a Politico story, only politicians worry about that stuff. All you did by sharing that was to promote that story to people, like me, who never even saw it. The bright side in all of this is maybe this is your first bi-partisan action, your media platform now appears to be in line with President Trump’s. You never know where you’ll find common ground, perhaps you can both work together on the Fake News Act of 2019 that requires government regulation of the media, including verification of sources, content review boards and inspection by the Department of Public Trust.
So in closing, the answer is, never, especially if divulging my source can lead to some kind of political payback or retribution…or worse…having the source stop talking to me…that’s just how it works. Looking forward to your reply about what exactly happened in the sausage factory that inspired somebody in the meeting to run to Politico and dish the dirt.
That is about the most honest answer I can give you. I hope it helps. Best of luck with the new job!
The story about Rep. Pallone + I getting into a “fight” in caucus was 100% false as well.
This is why public gets confused – & 45 exploits that confusion.
How about a learning moment – honest question so readers can distinguish: when is a journalist required to cite a source? https://t.co/SWHKjteR7m
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) December 18, 2018