Where’s The WAPO’s Accountability?

Yesterday, the Washington Post seemed to have broken a big story. Here’s what they said…

“Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, have signaled to the White House that they intend to step down even if President Bush is reelected, setting the stage for a substantial reshaping of the administration’s national security team that has remained unchanged through the September 2001 terrorist attacks, two wars and numerous other crises.

Armitage recently told national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that he and Powell will leave on Jan. 21, 2005, the day after the next presidential inauguration, sources familiar with the conversation said.”

So we have the WAPO quoting an anonymous source about a conversation between Richard Armitage & Condi Rice. But a variety of White House officials have been willing go on the record and say that conversation never happened….

“(Phillip) Reeker and (Scott) McClellan said the conversation that the Post said Armitage had with Rice never occurred.

“Welcome to Washington in August, where some of these goofy stories tend to hit the front page,” Reeker said. “But there is no basis to that story.”

Even Colin Powell has gone on the record to say this story is bogus…

“(T)he story has no substance and the so-called conversation that took place between my Deputy, Mr. Armitage, and National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, did not take place. And therefore, the story has no source or basis in the beginning; and most of it is just all gossip and speculation from no source.”

So we have two directly conflicting stories about this conversation between Richard Armitage & Condi Rice. On the one hand, we have three members of the Bush administration, including Colin Powell, who are willing to go on record and say that the post story is a lie. On the other hand, all the WAPO has is some anonymous sources who aren’t even willing to put their names to the story.

Now in any sane world, the WAPO would have a big credibility problem right now. Their editor should be demanding that the reporter who wrote the story, Glenn Kessler, come to his office and reveal his sources. Then the editor would either be contacting those sources to find out why they were wrong or he’d be telling Kessler never to use them again because they apparently burned the WAPO with this false story. Heck, maybe the editor would even be suspending Kessler for making this whole thing up if he couldn’t back up what he wrote. In any case, the WAPO should either be offering more evidence for their story or they should be retracting it & explaining what sort of corrective steps they’re taking to make sure this sort of story doesn’t get into the news again.

Now I know some of you are probably thinking, “Come on Hawkins. Papers print these sorts of anonymous stories all the time and sometimes they pan out and sometimes they don’t. You can’t expect papers to take responsibility for their anonymous sources.” Why not? Are these supposed to be trusted newspapers or gossip rags like the Enquirer? If the WAPO is going to print something like this based on anonymous sources, they have a responsibility to their readers to make sure it’s accurate. But the WAPO — and let’s be honest here, the majority of the mainstream media — tends to just shrug their shoulders and say, “no big deal” when they publish stories based on anonymous sources that don’t pan out. That’s not responsible journalism and I wish more people would be willing to say so…

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