Thursday, September 18, 2008


Credibility is a word much bandied these days.

We are told that in this internet world where the abililty to tell a story is as simple as clicking a hyperlink, the traditional media is a refuge of credibility. We are assured the layers of "editorial processes" is a vanguard against myth and rumor. We are told that those who use their actual names as opposed to pen names are more trustworthy. We are told many things.

Yesterday, Atlanta Journal Constitution Assistant Editorial Page Editor Jim Wooten published a story regarding the hacking of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's email indicating that "sleazy political operatives are so unnerved by the prospect that Palin lit a fire under Republicans and is drawing more women and Independents to McCain that they’re willing to break the law". No evidence is given. No elucidation follows. These political operatives are never identified.

In fact, it was already known the apparent hacker boasted his deeds on an internet community known less for its politcal persuasion and more for its ability to cause chaos. This small morsel of information was ignored in order to feast on a meal of polemical vapors.

Confronted by the absence of fact in the piece, the AJC's response is no one knows the politics of the perpetrators therefore there is no factual error.

This is credibility.

In July of this year, Atlanta blogger Andre Walker reported the Democratic Party of Georgia had pressured the Georgia Association of Educators to withdraw its support of Senate candidate Rand Knight. The story was based on anonymous sources with no corroboration and quickly fell apart - forcing Walker to issue a retraction and an apology.

That same month, it was discovered Walker failed to disclose money received from a political candidate who he portrayed positively on his blog. Once again, although this time after much pressure from the Atlanta blogging community, he was forced to admit he should have acted differently.

Yesterday, Walker was quoted in an Albany Herald article alledging unrest within the Democratic Party of Georgia over the replacement of a Dougherty County School Board candidate. He indicated members of the Executive Committee were unaware of the actions of the party in the matter and presented as evidence the now familiar claims of anonymous emails and phone calls.

This is credibility.

We listen to those inhabiting the towers of higher learning warn of falsehoods and fraud. We are told about guardians of democracy. At times, these guardians whisper totemic phrases to mark that which they deem credible.

We are told many things.


MTHEORY said...

Well, you ruffled MY feathers, but not for the reason you might think. Your quotation of Wooten's column (not a 'story,' btw) is inaccurate. Here's the full sentence:

"The spin from this is not that sleazy political operatives are so unnerved by the prospect that Palin lit a fire under Republicans and is drawing more women and Independents to McCain that they’re willing to break the law in digging for dirt."

Note the 'not.' Note that he's commenting on the 'spin' and what it is and isn't. You should also note that he doesn't SAY the Obama campaign was the phishing/4Chan attack. He uses "the left," then "they," and then "Hackers." Implied? Yeah, maybe. Stated? Nope. And if you're going to call someone out on credibility, you should get it precisely right.

My feathers are only ruffled because you normally you are so damn good at this (I look for "My Morning Wooten" before I look for his column) that's it's diappointing when you mis-fire. I apologize for holding you to such high standards!

MTHEORY said...

Err, "disappointing." Sorry.

griftdrift said...

Well Mike, first of all, that it was a column on the editorial page and not in the front section does not make it immune from relying on credible evidence. Opinion is not a shield from accuracy.

And I left out the first part of the statement because it clouds the situation. I don't believe that results in an out of context situation. We could argue whether Jim implied (certainly did as I pointed out yesterday) or explicity stated the work was the result of Democratic political operatives but the result remains the same. Without evidence he indicated this was an act of politics while ignoring the facts which casts it in a different light.

I stand by what I wrote.

griftdrift said...

And the word "not" there is modifying the term "spin" not "political operatives".

He does not say "possible political operatives". He states definitively that the press easily ignores political operatives who are so desperate to damage Palin they resort to the illegal. Without providing any evidence political operatives have done something illegal.

If you want, we can go to the chalkboard and diagram the sentence.

MTHEORY said...

Challenged to a sentence-diagramming? That's an internet first for me!

Look, it's too nice a day to be nit-picking over this -especially with a writer I respect. (gratuitous butt-kissing inserted to keep this light-hearted)

You see a "definitive" statement, I see implication by omission. You see inaccuracy, I see opinion. Maybe Wooten cleverly crafted his column to create the "Democrats did this" meme you noted yesterday. Maybe he got his facts 100% wrong. But frankly, I don't think he's either that bad or that good.

Just my opinion, of course.

Sara said...

Wooten raised the specter of it being political operatives at work, regardless of whether he said "I think it was those guys" or "I'm not saying it was those guys, but..."

And the impression it gave was clearly reflect in the comments by people who assumed it was political operatives who were responsible. This is a classic tactic--admit there's no real reason to blame someone, but in so doing suggest that they should still be suspected. In this case, though, the press already had the story of who was responsible, and at that point to raise the specter of it being political when you have clear evidence otherwise is pretty irresponsible.

MTHEORY said...

I'll happily concede he "raised the specter" but the point I can't seem to get across is that raising the specter is not the same thing as stating an allegation or making an accusation. (And as far as irresponsible journalists, I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you! Next thing you know, you'll be telling me there's gambling going on at Rick's Cafe Americain!)

Gotta go. Need chalk for my showdown with grift!

griftdrift said...

And let's be very clear. It's still not out of the question that it was political. But there is no evidence towards that fact either. The FBI has a person of interest who just happens to be the son of a Democrat in the Tennessee state legislature. Which could mean something and could mean nothing.

The one thing that is clear here is Wooten chose to either imply or state depending on your perspective that it was a political operation when at best the full picture was not clear and at worst when he had no clue.

And that goes to Wooten's credibility (and the AJCs as a whole with their mealy mouthed reply) and that is my point.

Anonymous said...

Hey, can you post the AJC's response?

MTHEORY said...

Out of curiosity, gd, you actually wrote or emailed the AJC and they responded? I didn't see that -but I only read the AJC online version anymore. Would you mind sharing the text of your complaint and their response?

griftdrift said...

I will not post the actual response nor did I quote because I don't do that unless I am upfront about my intentions to write about a certain subjects and at the time I didn't know I would follow up on this story.

I did email the AJC and they did respond. I believe my brief description accurately expresses what was said.

If the editor at the AJC disagrees then I will ask permission to print the full response.

Unknown said...

First, Wooten is a moron.

Second, it could be argued that the hackers became "political operatives" the instant they tried to hack a politicians account.

Third, if the obviously unrelated and tangential involvement of the son of a TN Dem rep turns out to be connected to the Democrat Party or Obama campaign in any real way, what will your reaction to Wooten be?

Fourth, can we agree that Wooten is as big a numbskull as the woman on the other side of the editorial page and two key examples of why the AJC sucks?

Last, I am sure the hacking of Palin's account was in now way connected to her running for the White House, therefore it can't be political becaus only Republicans do that kind of thing. Oh God, it was hard to type that without laughing out loud.

griftdrift said...

My reaction would be the same. Wooten made a claim with no evidence and that would speak to his credibility as a journalist.

Amber Rhea said...

Implied or stated outright... give me a break. It's such a "when did you stop beating your wife" situation.