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June 26, 2006

Zengerle and Foer protect dishonest source

Steve Gilliard reports that Frank Foer, editor of The New Republic, emailed to say that he has no intention of asking Jason Zengerle to reveal the identity of a source who forwarded a bogus email attributed to Steve Gilliard.

Steve writes:

I have just received an e-mail from TNR editor Frank Foer which said they thought the apology is adequate and "they had nothing more to add". It was bad enough they tacked on Gilliard-gate to their mistake on their reporting. But now, they're defending a dishonest source, who sends e-mails withour any proof of their accuracy.

My question is simple: why are they protecting a dishonest source on a story? They know the person in question lied to them about my words, yet they continue to protect them. Why would they do this?

Apology or not, this is about credibility and their lack of it. How can anyone trust Jason Zengerle's words again? If they were to face legal action in the future, from an issue unrelated to this, counsel would surely contact me about this matter, as well as use it against them.

This isn't about me, except for those words. It is, however, about how badly and dishonestly this whole affair has been handled. It was sloppy, an embarassment and TNR cannot wish it away. Until they deal with this in a forthright manner, their critics will always say "how can you trust them, they posted that fake e-mail", regardless of the facts of the story.

Why is TNR protecting the person who sent them the fraudulent email? Is it because the source was so sketchy that Zengerle is embarrassed to admit that he trusted him or her in the first place? Could it be that the source of the emails isn't even a Townhouse member? The fact that the original source supplied these messages without headers or time stamps makes me suspicious.

It's also curious that both of the alleged Townhouse members whom Zengerle asked to vouch for the authenticity of the emails made the same "mistake"--correctly identifying two of the three emails as being authentic posts from June 18, but overlooking the fact that nobody posted anything resembling the fake-Gilliard email on the date in question (or ever).

Zengerle says he didn't know the dates of the emails from his original source. So, he would have had to ask at least one of his backup sources to look up the dates of all three emails in order to establish that the exchange took place on June 18. Zengerle claimed to know that all three emails were posted on June 18th. If he didn't get time stamps from his original source, he must have gotten them from one of his other sources. But the fake Steve Gilliard email didn't exist on Townhouse.

So, the question remains, where did Zengerle get the idea that this non-existent email was posted on June 18? His original source didn't give him any dates. The if the other two alleged Townhouse members were honest, they couldn't have told Zengerle the date of a non-existent email.

If I had to bet, I'd wager that Zengerle got burned by more than one of his sources on this story. I'd also bet that he didn't do much due diligence to establish the bona fides of the two alleged Townhouse members who supposedly vouched for all three emails, including that non-existent one.

I'm disappointed that Frank Foer is more concerned with circling the wagons against "blogofascism" than he is with preserving TNR's reputation.

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Comments

What reputation? The few remaining subscribers will be checking out any year now.

This is stupid. If you promise a source anonymity--even if you later find out they screwed you over and then stopped answering your calls--you don't get the world off your back by breaking your promise. You suck it up, you take the heat, and next time you get your facts straight.

When you promise confidentiality to someone, I think its fair to assume you're granting that promise in exchange for actual information... as opposed to say, malicious fabrications, that'll put the career and reputation of the journalist himself at risk. Many people will conclude now- and not without reason- that Zengerle is simply lying.

If you promise a source anonymity--even if you later find out they screwed you over and then stopped answering your calls--you don't get the world off your back by breaking your promise.

Confidentiality isn't a one-way street, and most journalists don't see it as such. Journalists grant their sources confidentiality in exchange for information that their sources promise them is accurate. If bad information is offered in bad faith, it's expected that journalists will expose the people who lied to them (and by extension, their readers). It's this risk of exposure that's meant to deter the use of newspapers and magazines as a clearinghouse for libel; if there were absolutely no repercussions to leaking a false story, that's really all we'd see.

By not revealing Zengerle's source, TNR is joining the ranks of such luminaries as Matt Drudge. Congratulations, folks.

So much for TNR. I guess I'll have to busy myself reading other crappy publications now.

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"By not revealing Zengerle's source, TNR is joining the ranks of such luminaries as Matt Drudge."

And Jason Leopold. Oh, that's right, this is different: Leopold actually promised to reveal his sources. I don't recall Zengerle doing the same.

Yes, and Jason Leopold, although I don't see how Leopold's situation is substantively different from Zengerle's. Regardless of what they did or didn't promise, they both had a journalistic obligation to reveal their sources, and they chose not to do so.

Gilliard is a bullshit merchant, he admits he said something very similar to what zengerle's sources said he said, playing word lawyer on it, "...but overlooking the fact that nobody posted anything resembling the fake-Gilliard email on the date in question (or ever)" is wrong, Gilliard patently refused to say this was so, he said he may have actually said something remarkably similar to the email but phrased it differently, this means that Gilliard was paraphrased which due to the Chinese Whipsers effect, was erroneously turned into a quote by someone, thus it would be the fair and hoenst thing to debunk the initial claim that TownHouse is a place where group think and back scratching rules the opinions of bloggers and journalists, rather than trying to drag zergele's name through the mud, which due to him beign a TNR writer, is rather akin to glueing big balls of fur to a big ball of fur - pointless.

Never mind that we should independently verify it (If we want ot get all professional about it) some how instead of playing "he said she said", maybe if Townhouse opened up it's archives to us mere plebians... potentially telling us which writers may have been subject to any "bias" gained via those secret internet email exchanges in the process by revealing the entire membership list... Did I mention I like democracy and transparency in my bloggers? Does that make me horribly biased?

It's a pissant story, but please, if you absolutely must keep intriguing me, please focus on the important bit, the secret freaking cabal, resort to mudslinging later, it's TNR! There'll always be something else you can use as an excuse to skullfuck zergele!

Zengerle admits that the text he claimed was an email to Townhouse written by Steve Gilliard was neither an email to Townhouse, nor written by Steve Gilliard. Now he wants to shift the blame to his anonymous sources. Not cool.

As you say, R. Mildred, Zengerle should have confirmed the authorship of the emails he republished with the people who allegedly wrote them. In fact, he didn't contact Stark, Greenwald, or Gilliard for confirmation. Instead, he found two other anonymous sources who, conveniently, vouched for information that he should have verified with the principles involved. What do you know? They both endorsed the same fake email as being real. Very suspicious.

The outrage directed at Kos for urging other bloggers to ignore the story is misplaced. Kos wasn't warning people not to criticism Armstrong. Let's face facts, a lot of bloggers are paranoid about the media and inclined to view any negative press as some kind of attack or conspiracy, especially when DailyKos, YearlyKos, and the entire liberal blogosphere is being tarred with Jerome's six-year-old stock touting infractions.

Some people's initial impulse would be to fly off half-cocked and defend Jerome just because he's a fellow liberal blogger. In fact, the accusations against Jerome aren't defensible. The timing of the stories was clearly politically motivated, but the accusations are reality-based. So, if you're a self-professed partisan political operative like Kos and most of the people on Townhouse, it's your job to respond strategically to hostile media coverage. It's the classic question: Do you hit back, or do you ignore? Kos suggested that ignoring was smarter than attacking. People who are shocked by that need to grow up.

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