Is Adam Entous an honest reporter?

SATURDAY, JULY 22, 2017

Once again, with the obvious need to use our number words:
Again today, like yesterday, today we have counting of sources.

Once again, we have the need to use our number words!

Once again, our desire to use our number words originates on the front page of the glorious Washington Post. The news report to which we refer drove the excitement on cable last night. In hard copy editions today, it tops the Post's front page.

The news report starts as shown below. Again, we have counting of sources:
ENTOUS, NAKASHIMA AND MILLER (7/22/17): Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions—then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump—were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions—who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter—has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.
The full report runs 29 paragraphs in hard copy, 33 grafs on line. If you wonder how many sources Entous had, his text provides no information beyond what you see in those first four paragraphs.

Let's engage in the counting of sources! First, an obvious point:

This news report is an attack on the honesty of Jeff Sessions. The mainstream press is involved in a chase, and Sessions is one of their targets.

In this new report—it drove much cable excitement last night—Entous claims to be relaying information he garnered from sources. But he never uses his number words! He never explicitly says how many sources he had!

No doubt, this was an honest omission on the part of Entous and his anonymous editors. That said, let's try to count the Post's sources:

In paragraph 1, Entous says his report is based on alleged information allegedly gained from "current and former U.S. officials."

The word "officials" is plural. By any reckoning, this means that Entous is claiming at least two sources.

In paragraph 3, Entous describes one of these sources. According to Entous, one of his sources was a "U.S. official."

In that same paragraph, Entous describes a second source. According to Entous, he had a second source, who he describes as "a former official."

(Inferentially, this seems to be "a former U.S. official.")

Sadly, there you have it! In his remaining 29 paragraphs, Entous refers again and again, in plural form, to his sources. But he never gives us any reason to believe that his roster of sources extends beyond this rather meager list:
Roster of alleged sources:
"One U.S. official"
"A former official"
Is that it? Is that his full roster of sources? Nowhere in his lengthy report does Entous explicitly describe any additional source.

Let's use our number words! This would mean that Entous had "two" sources for the rather murky report which drove "cable news" last night.

That wouldn't be a large number of sources!

That wouldn't necessarily mean that the claims made by these sources were inaccurate, bogus or wrong. But is is true? Is this front-page report based on claims from only two sources?

Nowhere in his lengthy report does Entous use his number words to establish the number of sources on whom he is drawing. That strikes us as slippery journalistic behavior. That said, we're left with some additional questions and observations.

Quickly, let's rattle them off. We'll start with a question of language:

If Entous had just two sources, was it perhaps misleading to refer to them in this way:

"According to current and former U.S. officials."

Doesn't that make it sound like he is referring to plural current officials and plural former officials? Doesn't that description possibly make it sound like he's referring to a whole bunch of officials?

We'd have to say it does! It would have been easy for Entous to use his number words to make a precise statement, like this:

"According to one U.S. official and one former U.S. official."

Whatever the actual truth may be, it would have been amazingly easy for Entous to use his number words to tell us how many sources he had. Why didn't the brilliant reporter do that? Is it possible that Entous, and his anonymous editors, were being less than obsessively honest regarding these basic facts?

Here comes a second question:

How many of Entous' sources have read the transcripts of Kislyak's alleged intercepted communications, or have seen the intelligence reports relating to same?

Based upon those first four paragraphs, it seems that "a former official" has allegedly seen the intelligence in question. But how odd! We find no claim, in this whole report, that any other source has!

In paragraph 18, we read a slightly more specific account. In this passage, Entous explicitly says that one of his sources has read the intelligence reports:
ENTOUS: A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.
A trusting reader may assume that we're now hearing about a second "former official" who has see the intelligence reports. But Entous makes no such explicit claim. It would have been easy to make that claim, but Entous never does.

Is this "former U.S. official" the same "former official" cited in paragraph 3? If so, Entous is relying on a single (anonymous) source to describe the intelligence in question.

That doesn't mean that his source's account is wrong. It does mean that Entous seems to be trying to keep us from knowing that he's relying on a single source.

Now for a very simple, very basic question:

Has the Washington Post actually seen the intelligence reports it is discussing?

Plainly, the answer seems to be no. We may have seen Entous say as much, when he was asked, on cable news last night. (Transcripts aren't posted yet.)

That said, Entous never explicitly states this fact in his lengthy front-page report. His full report runs 33 paragraphs. Apparently, he couldn't find room to establish this basic fact.

Assuming the Post hasn't seen the reports, we'd like to call your attention to paragraph 27. As we do, we'll ask one final question:

Is the highlighted passage shown below fully informative? At some point, should Entous have said something more?
ENTOUS: Kislyak was also a key figure in the departure of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to leave that job after The Post revealed that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak even while telling others in the Trump administration that he had not done so.

In that case, however, Flynn’s phone conversations with Kislyak were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, providing irrefutable evidence. The intelligence on Sessions, by contrast, is based on Kislyak’s accounts and not corroborated by other sources.
The highlighted statement is accurate. The intelligence reports in question are based on Kislyak's accounts of his alleged encounters with Sessions.

That said, the Post's report seems to be based on one former official's account of the intelligence reports, which in turn are based on Kislyak's account. The Post is looking through a glass rather darkly. In 33 paragraphs, Entousn ever states this basic fact in a clear, reporterly way.

We aren't in love with folk like Entous. Here's why:

It's very easy for major reporters to use their number words. When they fail to do so, you should possibly check your wallets. They seem to be maybe perhaps engaged in a bit of a con.

In the current instance, they may be engaged in a bit of a con because they're deeply involved in a chase. They're also involved in a newspaper war, with very large sums on the line.

The Washington Post is involved in a chase. In this case, in chasing Donald J. Trump, they are very likely chasing a guilty party.

That said, we've seen these slimy bastards conduct their chases before. A 25-year chase after Hillary Clinton extended through last fall's election. In 1999 and 2000, they engaged in all these games, and more, to further their headlong chase against Candidate Gore.

Candidate Bush ended up in the White House. He then started an ill-advised war which has changed the shape of the world. People are dead all over the world because slippery bastards like Adam Entous played these games in the past.

But now, because we hate his target, we liberals are cheering him on. We liberals! Although we claim to be enormously bright and brilliantly moral, we feed on extremely thin gruel.

Entous is a big grown boy. He needs to use his number words the way other children do.

In the spirit of that suggestion, let's engage in the counting of cons regarding today's report:
Today we have counting of cons:
1) Entous never tells us how many sources he has.
2) He never tells us how many sources have seen the alleged intelligence reports.
3) He never tells us if he himself has seen those alleged reports.
It seems to us that Adam Entous is working a bit of a con. It's easy to use our number words, but people like Entous, Nakashima and Miller just keep forgetting to do so.

People are dead all over the world because of these very forgetful children. At this site, we've spent 19 years chasing their impressively rich array of slippery cons.

They behave these ways when engaged in a chase. Today, a chase is on.

Coming Monday: Maddow's latest apparent exciting mistake (we're awaiting the transcripts)

37 comments:

  1. One thing we can be assured of. One or two Anonymous will be along shortly to explain that you're only enabling Trump.

    Leroy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "we"

      You got a weasel in your pocket?

      Delete
    2. Well, he's speaking for both Anonymous and Leroy.

      Delete
    3. Bob is objectively pro-Saddam.

      Delete
    4. Mao Cheng Ji is objectively pro-wasting federal government money to kick over the hornet's nest in the Middle East.
      Luckily, for him, there is a whole political movement, with their own propaganda arm to muddy the waters and make it look like this isn't really 100% true.

      Delete
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      Delete
  2. an ill-advised war --> a criminal war

    ReplyDelete
  3. There is no issue with the media chase. That's what they do. I have no idea what Somerby expects them to do. They chase stories. The fact that they tend to chase in a pack reflects the competitive nature of the business. All we can expect is that they chase important stories and that they report on them accurately.

    The problem with both the Clinton and Gore chases is that they chased bullshit and built a narrative that was nonsense. They deserved every knock Somerby made against them at the time, not because there was a chase, but because it was a bullshit chase.

    Today, the chase is indeed on. Unlike with Clinton and Gore, this chase is not chasing nonsense and bullshit. Somerby acknowledges that Trump is very likely guilty and, therefore, that the pack is not chasing bullshit or nonsense. They are doing their very important job, imperfectly as always.

    Is the Post story accurate and fair? That is the only really important issue. With Clinton and Gore, the answer was usually no. So far, with Trump, the answer has usually been yes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well stated, Tom. But Bob is not addressing the chase in this post. He is rather making an important observation about mainstream reporting. It occurs frequently. The facts are attributed to “official” anonymous sources, and due to the haziness of such attributions, seems to multiply the number of sources, giving those who read the reporting the imprimatur of certainty.

      That phenomenon got us into Iraq. It’s no small thing, and I’m glad that Bob brings it up – no matter the current circumstances.

      Leroy

      Delete
    2. Somerby is correct that reporters could be more exact about how many sources they have, but that would not help their sources remain anonymous. They may have more corroboration than the sources vaguely mentioned. They do not list all if their backup. That isn't their purpose and it would impede the narrative. Their lawyers tell them how many sources of what type they need to publish info. That happens behind the scenes. Someby thinks it should be up front, but most people don't want to read that stuff. This is his obsession.

      Delete
    3. I think that the readers of a newspaper should have as much information presented to them as possible regarding anonymous sources. The number of sources that are used to make a claim is important to understanding how much weight one should put in the claim being made. The paper should also make it clear if the source offers additional evidence to support their claim, such as documentary evidence, rather than vague statements that are made in this WaPo report.

      Delete
    4. When do you ever get thorough sourcing descriptions on any news story? Sometimes people are on the record and their names are given but how can you expect that on these kinds of stories? That doesn't make them untrue.

      Delete
    5. There ought to be through sourcing descriptions for all news stories that use anonymous sourcing. I want to know as much as possible if there isn't a name being attached to the claims being made.

      Delete
    6. The whole point of allowing journalists to protect and not reveal their sources arises because investigative journalism uses anonymous, protected sources. That is how it works. There is no reason why that should be different now.

      Delete
  4. Trump is the only honest man in Washington, according to Bob.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bob thinks Trump is too mentally disorganized or ill to be able to lie, something that (scarily enough) might be true...

      Delete
    2. Well, that would be a very silly assumption if thats what Bob thinks. Bob obviously knows Trump is a liar, he's just too proud to admit he's wrong.

      Delete
  5. Perhaps the story was planted by Trump, hoping that Sessions will resign, thereby ending the Russia investigation. He IS obsessed by it!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Is Adam Entous an honest reporter?

    Does Bob Somerby have more than a dozen readers?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Tom Benjaman wrote: "Somerby acknowledges that Trump is very likely guilty." My question is, "Guilty of what?"

    Lavrenty Beria, head of Stalin's Secret Police said, "Show me the man, and I'll show you the crime." That's the attitude of many toward Trump. They think he committed some crime or other, although they don't know what that crime might be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't be obtuse, David.

      Delete
    2. They think he committed some crime or other, although they don't know what that crime might be.


      This from the cretin who spent 2 years yelling "lock her up". Comrade DinC's photo is in the dictionary under the word "hypocrite". I believe Dante said there's a special ring in hell for hypocrites.

      Delete
    3. You should know, David, that was always your attitude on anybody named Clinton.

      Delete
  8. Bob Somerby: “This news report is an attack on the honesty of Jeff Sessions.”

    As Groucho Marx [and various other notables] reportedly said in a different context, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the details.”

    ReplyDelete
  9. OK, Tom Benjamin says, "Unlike with Clinton and Gore, this chase is not chasing nonsense and bullshit." I strongly disagree. Anonymous sources are often promoting a bullshit story for reasons of their own. In this case I sspeculate that the "former government official" is John Brennan, because he's the one who started this whole meshugis last year, apparently (I don't have a link handy) based on a report from a single foreign "intelligence" agency. He is reported to have then set up a separate group of analysts exactly like Cheney's special office, for the same reason, to cherry pick stuff that supported the story he was crafting. The "U.S official" is probably one of his former buddies from that special group. My story is not proven, but neither is yours.

    Mr. Benjamin also says, "There is no issue with the media chase. That's what they do." No, that is not what they normally do. You're bending the language. They normally "follow" a story. The word "chase," as Somerby is using it here describes something more like a shark feeding frenzy.

    Frankly, from my brief stint in SIGINT sixty years ago, I would say that if this story is true, then the "former official" and the current official are guilty of betraying an intelligence resource of value equal to the breaking of the Japanese diplomatic code, which was so valuable that they refrained from warning the commander at Pearl Harbor rather than let the Japanese intelligence agencies have even a hint that they might have done so. It is as valuable as the Enigma machine that allowed the British to read German military communications. This is real harm to United States national security, not the low level bullshit that Snowden revealed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is the job of journalists to differentiate between bs stories and those with some substance. Everyone has an ulterior motive -- those are beside the point. Journalists vet what people tell them. Their paper's reputation rests on their ability to do this well, most of the time. Somerby thinks they should not only tell what they know but explain how they know it. I disagree.

      Delete
    2. Whoa, procopius, way to undercut your argument. A (possible) meeting between Sessions and Russians rises to the level of the
      Enigma machine or Pearl Harbor? That's a bit of hyperbole...just a tad. Are you saying it did happen, and
      concealing it is as important as winning the war against the Nazis?

      Delete
  10. How about a blanket,"According to Deep Throats..."?
    Historians will reveal their identities.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here's a hilarious thing I saw just now:

    "MSNBC host Joy Reid took to Twitter Friday afternoon to attack President Donald Trump for his “Soviet” wives, but it backfired after she made several factual errors about Trump’s current wife and one of his former wives.

    “Donald Trump married one American (his second wife) and two women from what used to be Soviet Yugoslavia: Ivana-Slovakia, Melania-Slovenia,” Reid tweeted."

    http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/07/23/msnbc-host-joy-reid-tries-to-bash-trump-over-soviet-wives-it-backfires-spectacularly/

    Clearly, the journalistic standards of the US mainstream media are now below those of Der Stürmer...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is like a spelling flame.

      Delete
    2. Joy Reid's tweet is an embarrassment and sucks.

      Delete
    3. Both Trump voters with a knowledge of world geography are ROTFLTAO.

      Delete
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