The Danger of Taking Official Claims at Face Value

The Associated Press has fired the reporter behind an erroneous report that claimed that the missile that struck Poland last week had been fired by Russian forces. The original report relied on the word of a single anonymous U.S. intelligence official. An investigation into the erroneous report shows that a willingness to take official sources at their word seems to have been part of the larger problem:

Internal AP communications viewed by The Post show some confusion and misunderstanding during the preparations of the erroneous report.

LaPorta shared the U.S. official’s tip in an electronic message around 1:30 p.m. Eastern time. An editor immediately asked if AP should issue an alert on his tip, “or would we need confirmation from another source and/or Poland?”

After further discussion, a second editor said she “would vote” for publishing an alert, adding, “I can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong on this.” [bold mine-DL]

Skepticism about official claims should always be the watchword for journalists and analysts. These are claims that need more scrutiny than usual rather than less. If you can’t imagine that an intelligence official could get something important wrong, whether by accident or on purpose, you are taking far too many things for granted that need to be questioned and checked out first.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

25 thoughts on “The Danger of Taking Official Claims at Face Value”

  1. “…..a second editor said she “would vote” for publishing an alert, adding, “I can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong on this.””

    Imagination, in addition to elementary skepticism, might be important qualities to an actual ‘journalist’ (sic), but are clearly superfluous and unnecessary attributes for a sycophantic mouth-piece whose sole function is to regurgitate State propaganda when it is fed to you.

  2. Not only should things like this not be published until they’re confirmed by at least one additional source, but any source who gives false information like this needs to be revealed. That would have been much better than firing the so-called “journalist,” whose main job is to brainwash people with propaganda anyway.

  3. “I can’t imagine a U.S. intelligence official would be wrong on this.”

    *cough* Saddam’s WMD’s *cough*

  4. When our press just starts to regurgitate government claims as facts, we become exactly the same as all the authoritarian states that we claim to be better than. The only difference is that our journalists agree to toe the government line voluntarily, and in the process they forsake everything they learned in journalism school become a propaganda mouthpiece.

    1. Yes, but it happened decades ago. The Gulf of Tonkin lie was in the 1960s, and the media was far more legitimate back then. Babies taken from incubators in Kuwait, weapons of mass destruction, etc., it’s just more of the same. The only difference here is that we’re dealing with a major risk of nuclear war, which of course makes this lie even worse than the others, which is saying a lot since the others promoted U.S. wars of empire.

  5. Great article and this dovetails perfectly!

    May 21, 2022 George Bush Accidentally Admits U.S. Is World’s Evil Empire

    It was the video that simply EVERYONE couldn’t get enough of – former President George Bush flubbing a line in a speech about what a dictatorial war criminal Vladimir Putin is by accidentally admitting that he too had committed a war crime by invading Iraq. And it’s not the first time Bush has committed a gaffe that exposed him as a callous, warmongering sociopath either.

    1. That was Cheney’s war. Bush was ultimately responsible as the president, but Cheney ran foreign affairs in his administration and no doubt was one of the main instigators of the Iraq II war.

      This situation and the mild failed attempts of Trump to rein in the U.S. military (attempts of peace with North Korea, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan & Syria, etc.) shows that it doesn’t matter who gets elected president because the deep state and military/industrial complex actually run foreign affairs. This system, which no one voted for, is to unrepresentative and secret that it needs to be totally abolished.

        1. Trump is very far from being a peace president. Any president who has war criminals like John Bolton or Mike Pompeo in their administration is not a peace president.

          Furthermore, the only thing Trump really cares about is money and his ego. He could have made peace happen in North Korea and withdrawn U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria if he really wanted to, but things like that are not at all priorities for him, as shown by war criminals in his administration.

          1. Allot words with zero evidence. I know this as a fact here for you. What do you have? North Korea? What about this Jeff? The only President to go there in fifty or more years.

            Feb 27 , 2019 WATCH LIVE: Trump meets with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un


          2. Zappa knew your type as I do, and good luck and peace out! Feelings are irrational as you. “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.” – Frank Zappa

  6. The problem with taking government claims at face value is that they’re a bunch of liars.

    1. No one lies to the public anywhere near as much as the government, large corporations, and corporate/mainstream/establishment media.

  7. What is amazing to me here is that there were actually consequences for someone who nearly started WWIII. Very rare indeed.

    1. Yes, but they didn’t reveal the lying source, which is far more important and would have been much better. When these sources can lie with impunity like this, they’ll just continue doing so and using “reporters” like this. Much better for the source to have faced the consequences of being revealed for lying.

      1. Journalism 101:

        You don’t burn your confidential sources. Ever.

        If they turn out to be unreliable, don’t rely on them anymore, but outing them will very quickly leave you fresh out of people who are willing to talk to you.

        Sometimes journalists will go to jail rather than reveal sources. And they’ll certainly take the hit for an inaccurate report rather than do that.

        1. I’ve heard journalists say that this and other lying sources should be revealed, because the deal is that you only get confidentiality if you tell me the truth. Regardless of journalistic ethics, this source should have been revealed, doing so would have been much better for society. Only honest sources deserve confidentiality.

          1. It’s not about ethics, or what’s better for society, or who “deserves” what.

            If you out sources, you stop having sources. And if you stop having sources, you don’t get stories and you get to go to work stocking shelves at Walmart instead of practicing journalism. Therefore you do not out sources. Period.

          2. I understand. But if that became the standard, outing dishonest sources would only lose you dishonest sources. If sources knew they had to tell the truth or STFU, they wouldn’t pull crap like this. I can’t imagine that honest sources would care about outing dishonest ones.

          3. If that became the standard, outing dishonest sources would lose you ALL sources. The guy who tells you X is taking a risk, unless it’s a “planted” leak. If he sees you outing someone else, he doesn’t care why. He just know he doesn’t trust you when it’s his neck on the line.

          4. “I’ve heard journalists say that this and other lying sources should be revealed, because the deal is that you only get confidentiality if you tell me the truth.”

            And how many of their own sources have those journalists outed?

            Sure, they’d love for other journalists to end up asking if you want fries with that burger instead of competing in the contest for scoops. But they’re sure as hell not going to put themselves out of work.

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