Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hanged Census worker possible suicide; AP's anonymous source wrong?

When this news was first reported, I warned:
Drug dealers and 'shiners are notoriously hostile toward anyone snooping around, and Sparkman may well have stumbled onto some sort of criminal situation. . . .
Let's wait to see what law enforcement discovers before jumping to any kind of politicized Let's-Blame-Glenn-Beck speculation.
And now, via Hot Air, comes this interesting bit of news:
Trosper said the initial AP story on the death contains “flaws and errors.” That means it’s possible that the AP’s claim, based on an anonymous source, that he had the word “fed” scrawled on his chest could be false. Asked if that were the case, Trosper declined to comment.
In other words, don't believe everything you read. There are a couple of old newsroom sayings that apply here:
  • The story too good to check. That is to say, a story which is so awesomely perfect in its illustration of some idea, you don't double-check to make sure the basic facts are right. If you're familiar with the Stephen Glass saga at The New Republic, you know how Glass cleverly fabricated stories about thuggish Republicans, selfish dot-com entrepreneurs, etc., which perfectly fit the preconceived biases of his liberal editors. Beware of this kind of "just so" story.
  • If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Skepticism and attention to detail are vital to good news reporting. Spending 10 years as a news editor at The Washington Times, I often had to check to make sure that if a reporter wrote about Rep. Joe Jones (D-Texas), that Jones was actually a Democrat, actually from Texas, and actually was named Joe Jones and not James Jones or John James. Reporters sometimes get in a hurry and get things wrong, and if you forget to fact-check the small stuff, you're taking big risks, because sometimes the most significant clue that a story is essentially wrong is the presence of a few bogus "facts."
When the "fed" note was reported in the headline of the AP story, based on an anonymous source, the Associated Press was investing a lot of credibility in that one nameless source.

Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post -- who has done solid reporting on IG-Gate, by the way -- clarifies the misimpressions created by the AP story:
State and federal law enforcement officials on Thursday dismissed the suggestion from a news service report that the man, William Sparkman, 51, may have been targeted because he worked for the federal government, calling that speculative. . . .
"I think to give this impression that he was strung up because he was a federal employee is giving a bad impression to the nation," said David Beyer, spokesman for the FBI field office in Louisville, which is working with state officials on the investigation.
True story: Early one Saturday morning in 1996, it was my turn in the rotation of staffers at the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune to travel down to Atlanta and cover the scene at the Olympics. Turned on the TV and saw that a bomb had gone off in Centennial Park the night before. Soon, anonymous "officials" were quoted pointing the finger of blame at security guard Richard Jewell -- and they were wrong.

Jewell, it turned out, was something of a hero who actually helped victims at the bombing scene. The perpetrator was domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph. And yet, based on anonymous "officials," the national media spent the next several days depicting Jewell as the presumptive bomber. An injustice inflicted on an innocent man by a too-credulous media.

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

More at Memeorandum.


  1. Perhaps the poor chap was trying to write "Fed Up" but dropped his pen. When he bent down to pick it up....

  2. I remember video of the poor sap standing outside his apartment as they towed his pickup away. There was no evidence ever against Jewell except the FBI applying a version of your first rule. Jewell fit a "profile" of a looser looking to be a hero. The news media hunted him down on leaks from the FBI. NBC was particularly bad on this account -- it was Tom Brokaw who said that prosecuters "probably" had enough for an indictment.

    I always think of Jewell when someone is called a "person of interest."

  3. It took Jewell a long time to get things straightened out. Some probably still believe he was the guy. That was bad for everyone.

    This other, however, is nice. While the left stream media might have been able to temporarily give conservatives and disenchanted middlings a black eye, the nation is no longer quite so trusting or lenient with the left wing media. This is going to whiplash just like calling every critique a racist crashed.

    (How's that working for you CJ? Uhrm, for example.)

    I'm fed with all this slander.

  4. I read: "It's a federal crime to attack a federal employee as they work, or because of their work." I wondered if the "fed" were inserted into the story in order to facilitate a heavy handed federal response.

    The account I read yesterday morning referenced "anti-government Townhall protesters" linked to Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma bombing as part of the mix behind Sparkman's murder.

    Speaking of checking out a mother's love, it's horrible for Sparkman's mother to face her son's murder, to be grilled for any clues, and tormented further with the scrawled "fed" fib. "Authorities aren't sure what device was used to carve the word on the victim's chest." Following Sparkman's autopsy, she wanted to arrange her son's funeral, and the feds told her to have him cremated. So the story was reported. If his mother wants a funeral, why force a cremation that obliterates the body (evidence) rather than closed casket for Sparkman's decomposed remains?

    maverick muse

  5. It all comes down to how much shoe leather you're willing to wear down.

    Quoted from and linked to at: