Lesson 8: Source Evaluation

When it comes to judging the credibility and reliability of news reports, you the news consumer have two main concerns: Evidence and Sources.

The last lesson was all about evidence, and its accumulation, which is the verification process that’s essential to V.I.A. We thought about the qualitative difference between Direct and Indirect evidence. 

In this lesson, we look closer at the people who are quoted in a news report who provide evidence.


Why Sources Matter

You recall that in a previous lesson, we referenced a key case study that explains why the analyzing of sources is important--that of former New York Times' reporter Judith Miller. After the attacks on 9/11, Ms. Miller, a Washingon bureau reporter became a key figure in the controversy over the reasoning and reporting used to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq after she released a number of stories that emphasized the presence of a Weapons of Mass Destruction program in the country. Ms. Miller got her information from sources that she had previously relied on in Iraq. However, in these cases, the sources turned out to give her information that was flat out wrong. This case had huge implications, with the Bush administration using these reports as evidence that Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction, and intended to use them. The case to invade had been made, and troops were sent in. 

However, as we now know, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

The New York Times published an apology in May of 2004 and subsequently forced Judith Miller to resign from her job in 2005. 

In it's apology, the Times referred to the sources that were used by Ms. Miller in her reporting: 

“The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on ‘regime change’ in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks.”

There were people in our government and elsewhere who had set out to hoodwink the press. But a careful news consumer armed with the ability to evaluate sources for themselves...might not have trusted the New York Times’ reporting because so much of it was based on un-named sources providing unverified, uncorroborated material.

This lesson prepares you to do just that. 


Lesson 8 Contents: