Today, we have counting of sources: With apologies to Henry Reed, today we have counting of sources.
We refer to the front-page report in the Washington Post which drove cable news last night. Rather, it drove cable news after 9:15 Eastern, when the news report appeared on the Post web site.
Rachel explained how the posting had affected her personally. After that, she began to discuss what the Post report said.
This is now the established pattern in so-called cable news. Every night, something appears on the web site of the Post or the New York Times. After that, a gaggle of cable talkers offer instant analysis, usually in the form of undisguised speculation.
Last night, the news report by the Washington Post seized control of the apparent discourse. Today we have counting of sources.
Your assignment, if you should choose to accept it:
According to today's hard-copy headline in the Post, Donald J. Trump is "exploring [his] pardoning powers." Our question:
How many sources does the Post cite in this, the start of its front-page report?
LEONNIG, PARKER, HELDERMAN AND HAMILTON (7/21/17): Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.Those are the four paragraphs which launched a thousand cable news ships. Once again, we ask our question:
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.
One adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.
“This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself,’ ” a close adviser said.
In that passage, how many sources does the Post cite?
We note that the Washington Post never answers that question in an explicit way. By our count, the number could be as high as four:
Possible roster of sourcesThat could be four different sources! On the other hand, the Post never uses its full assortment of words. The reporters never explicitly type this phrase, which would have been easy to render:
1) "one of those people" who are "familiar with the effort"
2) "a second person"
3) "one adviser"
4) "a close adviser"
"according to four people familiar with the effort."
The reporters never write that! Having noted that fact, we ask some horrible questions:
How do we know that "one adviser" and "a close adviser" aren't the same person?
That would strike us as dishonest too! But how do we know that the Post is describing two different people there?
How do we know that the "close adviser" isn't that "second person?"
We agree with you; that would be highly misleading. But that doesn't answer our question.
By our own cynical count, the Post could be citing as few as two different sources here. Yes, that would be a bit dishonest. But we've been wondering about this sort of sourcing ever since November 1999, when the New Yorker published a long, amazingly scripted report about what a big giant mess the thoroughly pitiful Gore campaign was.
That same Gore campaign went on to win every Democratic primary, something which had never been done.
At any rate, in the New Yorker's report, a long string of (anonymous) people were lustily quoted, slagging dumb Candidate Gore. A reader got the clear impression that he was reading comments from a long string of different anonymous people.
That said, no number words were employed. Given the way the mainstream press coverage was already working, we wondered how many of the apparent sources might be the same person: [Name Withheld].
We don't know if the New Yorker played that game that day. We'll bet your grandmother's sprawling farm that, along the way, various journalists have.
Last night, cable exploded behind that Post report. The report launched a thousand analytical ships, most of which were speculations about Donald J. Trump's plan to pardon everyone in his family, not excluding himself.
Is Donald J. Trump hatching that plan? We have no doubt that he may be. But it seems to us that the Post report is a bit thin in its sourcing and its evidence. Did you notice that the third and fourth apparent sources seem to be pooh-poohing the claim at the heart of the Post's report?
The corporate gong-show called "cable news" now has an established rhythm. Cable stars wait for the latest "explosive" report to appear on-line. When it does, everyone starts to speculate, fulminate, recite and embellish.
That Post report was the trigger last night. We saw no one on cable news offer even a mild trigger warning!
It would have been easy to type the word "four." When will our biggest, most famous news orgs start using their number words?