Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Protecting sources

Interesting question posed this morning by Sue Wittig during my monthly visit to Kingston Community Radio (WGHQ).

Sue raised the matter of The Los Angeles Times refusing to release a videotape that purports to show Barack Obama at a 2003 dinner with a former Palestinian rights advocate.

The background is supplied here by The New York Times and here by The Los Angeles Times.

To paraphrase Sue's point, is the pro-Obama press protecting the liberal presidential candidate?

My answer is, no, it's protecting a source it promised that it would not release the videotape.

Newspapers often receive valuable information from sources who don't want to be identified. Once the paper has established that the information is legitimate, and that the only way it can get it is by protecting the source, it will do so. To renege on that promised protection not only would be unethical, it would end the newspaper's chances of ever again being trusted by a would-be source.

Remember, The Los Angeles Times did publish the Obama-Palestinian story - the importance of which in the context of this campaign is relatively small, in my view. The Times didn't try to cover up something that might be construed as damaging to Obama. But it was morally bound not to produce the videotape.
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