Come for the Politics, Stay for the Pathologies

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Say “Hearsay”. What Say You?

I’ve heard or watched several interviews now with “journalists” Mark Halperin and John Heilemann who wrote the latest blockbuster best seller “Game Change”. The most interesting one by far however was by Don Imus this morning (carried on the FOX Business Channel, in case you were unaware). He queried them at length about attributions they made to various people in their book, and why some attributions included quotes, while others did not. Their explanation is the reason I’ve used quotes around the term “journalists” above.

Halperin and Heilemann provided the most convoluted, tortuous explanation I’ve heard in quite a long while. It boils down to this: they didn’t want to present hearsay information as an actual quote, but they did. From the Inside Imus Web Page: (emphasis mine)

…  Imus wondered why Halperin and Heilemann devised such specific standards for using quotation marks, or not.

"There's a lot of sloppiness in these books," said Heilemann, the national political correspondent for New York Magazine, about political tell-alls. "People put things in quotation marks all the time that they've heard second- or third-hand."

In Game Change, anything with quotation marks around it came directly from the person who said the quote, or someone who heard it directly, Heilemann explained. Anything that did not meet this standard is paraphrased, though still multiply sourced — like President Bill Clinton telling the late Senator Ted Kennedy that a few years ago, a guy like Barack Obama would have been getting them coffee.

Well two problems: first, “someone who heard it directly”  - as opposed to someone who said it directly to you - is known as, um, hearsay.*  Also known as second or third hand information. Secondly, even though they sourced Bill Clinton’s comment to Ted Kennedy from multiple sources, the only non-second hand source for that comment would have been Ted Kennedy. And he’s, um, dead. And since Ted Kennedy obviously didn’t tell either of these two “journalists” directly that Bill Clinton said that a few years ago Obama would be serving their coffee, I’d have to say that’s hearsay. Teddy might have told that story to several people, but he might have made it up: maybe to justify his decision to go with the light skinned candidate who didn’t talk with a Negro dialect.

So while it pains me to in any way defend Bill Clinton for anything, I’m going to have to say that this could well be an   out right hit job by a couple of  out-left “journalists” who might just have a, um,  political agenda of their own.

And speaking of Harry Reid, he doesn’t deny making the statement that is attributed to him. He just made it to these “journalists” as an off-the-record remark, which generally in journalistic circles means, well, that it’s off-the-record. As in not for attribution.

And these people wonder why the old mainstream media is dying?  I’d advise they get out a magnifying glass and stare into their navels.


* Here’s a good working definition of “hearsay” in the legal context: Oral or written testimony about an out-of-court statement attributed to someone other than the testifying person. Such evidence is generally inadmissible because the person to whom the statement is attributed cannot be cross-examined to ascertain its factual basis.