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.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.
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.
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:Is that it? Is that his full roster of sources? Nowhere in his lengthy report does Entous explicitly describe any additional source.
"One U.S. official"
"A former official"
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.The highlighted statement is accurate. The intelligence reports in question are based on Kislyak's accounts of his alleged encounters with Sessions.
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.
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: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.
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.
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)