I was at a meeting of a journalism fellowship program I’m part of this weekend. We heard from Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington DC bureau chief.
So, earlier in his career, he’d written some copy for the on-air talent to read for that night’s show. The line was something like “Clinton believes that the tax bill will pass.” The guy who was supposed to read the line — he happened to be an old-school journalist with little time for silliness — excoriated him. He told Feist that a reporter can never know what a politician thinks, believes or feels. The reporter can only know what the politician says.
Politicians might be telling you something for any number of reasons. It might be because they believe it. It might be because they want to send a particular message to the opposition or to the ground troops. It might be for any number of reasons. But a reporter can’t know what someone believes. He can only know what the source says. (The old-school journalist said this rule goes double for buildings, such as “The White House believes” or “The Vatican is hoping.”)
Good reporting might be able to put the quote in context, but it’s important that the reporter start by going with what the source says.
I thought of that when I read the first paragraph of this Associated Press story on big news in the Roman Catholic Church this weekend:
VATICAN CITY (AP) – Some 80,000 pilgrims in flowered lei, feathered headdresses and other traditional garb flooded St. Peter’s Square on Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI added seven more saints onto the roster of Catholic role models in a bid to reinvigorate the faith in parts of the world where it’s lagging.
This seems to be a variation of the “believes” edict from above. Unless the Catholic Church has stated that they canonized these seven saints just to “reinvigorate the faith in parts of the world where it’s lagging,” why would the reporter say that?
Later we’re told:
The canonization coincided with a Vatican meeting of the world’s bishops on trying to revive Christianity in places where it’s fallen by the wayside.
At first it was just lagging. Now we’re talking about those places in the world where Christianity has completely fallen by the wayside!
Full Story: AP knows what the Pope really thinks