WaPo‘s flagship gossip column “The Reliable Source” isn’t exactly setting a good example these days. Sure, we know it’s loathsome to have to attribute to someone else. But that’s the breaks and the way it goes if you want to be respected by your peers.
But “The UnReliable Source” plays by its own rules. This week they reported that Lindsay Lohan was attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren – they left off her husband, John Coale, and pointedly wrote that Greta didn’t respond to their emails. What did the gals want Greta to do, confirm or reconfirm the news that had already broken? They wrote it late (at 6:24 p.m. after it broke earlier at 3:50p.m.) and attributed it to “web reports” that linked to FBDC and The Hill newspaper. But it turns out The Hill didn’t break that story — FBDC did, which they made clear in their second graph published at 5:45 p.m.. This isn’t to brag, it’s fact and The UnReliable Source should be concerned with facts. Attribution also means naming the publications, not dismissing those who beat you as “web reports.” Even Politico CLICK managed to respectfully attribute this week as far as WHCD scooplets go. If they can do it, so can you two. The best part? The gals “confirmed” the “web reports” with Lohan’s publicist. Guess in their eyes that makes it legit.
This may sound like a largely dumb example as some grouse, who cares who broke Lindsay Lohan, George Clooney or Charlize Theron first? But attribution goes to the heart of what journalists are supposed to do — which is tell the truth. The UnReliable Source, if it wants to be reliable, may want to get on board with that.