The Post should start using its number words!

FRIDAY, JULY 21, 2017

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.

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.
Those are the four paragraphs which launched a thousand cable news ships. Once again, we ask our question:

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 sources
1) "one of those people" who are "familiar with the effort"
2) "a second person"
3) "one adviser"
4) "a close adviser"
That 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:

"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?


  1. Because of a past story that slagged Gore in the New Yorker, Somerby accuses the Post of having insufficient sourcing.

    Footnotes interfere with readability and add length. So do long lists if who checked what and who verified what. There is unprecedented leaking from within the Trump administration and those leaks have a string record for being subsequently proven correct. That suggests the sourcing, despite being poorly described, has been adequate.

    Somerby doesn't like the way people and the press are treating Trump. Many of us don't like the way Trump stole the presidency.

  2. Dave the Guitar PlayerJuly 21, 2017 at 12:42 PM

    Bob believes that the way Trump is being handled by press is unprofessional and the way liberal individuals treat Trump and his supporters is bad politics. You may believe differently, but criticizing the press for not providing accurate and unbiased factual information is legitimate. And, yes, we all know that Fox New is worse.

    1. Are liberals treated badly by right-wing media and their supporters? ("Trump that Bitch": actual bumper sticker here in deep-red Christian state.)
      Is theirs "good" politics because they win?
      Repubs can do whatever, whenever, because they win. Liberals must never ever say anything mean, ever. I would argue that glossing over the horrible mean-spirited dirty tricks of the right legitimizes them and their tactics, and that damages all of us.

    2. 12:49

      You can go to all manner of sources to find excoriation of the Repubs right-wing propaganda machine. Few people are criticizing its left-wing analog, such as it exists, in the cable news media. Bob does, and it matters.

      Bob points to the fecklessness of the people who purportedly represent the views of the left, and he consistently finds them lacking. I agree with him most of the time. Notice, he doesn’t criticize Democracy Now!, Consortium News, The Intercept et. al. He criticizes national cable news media and national papers such as the NYT and the Wa-ho-Post. Sometimes he gives them positive marks when they deserve it. That doesn’t mean he’s “glossing over” the dirty tricks of the right – he’s not even discussing them. That is a known and requires no analysis by Bob.

      Get over it, whoever you are. Go find a site that conforms to your need for tribal invective. Please.


  3. 'Few people are criticizing its left-wing analog, such as it exists, in the cable news media. Bob does, and it matters.'

    Only the President, the most powerful person in the world. And most of his staff. And lots of other Republicans. And Fox News (which has relentlessly attacked CNN). And most other conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who has been attacking the media for 25 years.

    Yup, I can well see where Bob is heroically the lone person in the US fighting the media, like Horatio at the bridge.

    And I have not seen him saying something positive about Maddows, ever or anything really positive about the NYT or the WaPo for a while. I think he hates the MSM so much over Election 2000 that anyone who is their enemy is his friend, so he has become a full Trump enabler.

    1. “…so he has become a full Trump enabler.”
      What utter nonsense. I mean real, true horseshit.

      As I wrote, “Bob points to the fecklessness of the people who purportedly represent the views of the left, and he consistently finds them lacking.”

      How in the world does that translate into enabling Trump? It’s just the opposite. Sorry you can’t see that.


    2. What you said was

      'Few people are criticizing its left-wing analog, such as it exists, in the cable news media. Bob does, and it matters.'

      This statement is total, complete nonsense. The media is another attack today as almost never before -- not even in the Nixon era.

      More than that, most of Bob's columns are mere nitpicking or complaining about how the NYT has a style column or dares to cover hot dog quality on the 4th of July. And he tosses in bogus equivalencies (Hillary, Ukraine) and his obsessive hatred for Maddow. Never does he commend the NYT or WaPo for some of the brilliant reporting (since largely verified, despite Bob's continual sniping) that has revealed the mendacities of the Trump administration.

      Other than his use of the phrase 'We liberals', Bob's attack on the media are barely distinguishable from those of Hannity and Fox. He has a much smaller megaphone than those people do, but his attacks and sniping serve the same purpose -- to support the Trump administration. So yes, he's a Trump enabler -lite.

    3. I meant 'under attack'

  4. With all that's going on it's good Bob has checked it with
    a clear opinion: Al Gore and Donald Trump are essentially
    the same.

  5. We know you meant under attack. While Bob does nitpick, especially at Rachel Maddow, his point is valid. The MSM prefers japing Trump to doing hard research and publishing incontrovertible facts. As long as this goes on, the Trumpsters present as much credibility to the "mugwumps" as do the liberals.
    If the mugwumps were willing to do their own fact checking, we wouldn't be in this mess. Alas!

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