Friday, February 29, 2008

Of Drudge and duty

Reaction to the Drudge Report's revelation that Prince Harry was serving in Afghanistan (the prince has now been withdrawn) includes some unusual discussion of "journalism ethics" -- with quotation marks that are quite necessary, I think.

Of course, Prince Harry's willingness to serve his country is entirely admirable, and the fact that the Drudge scoop led to Harry's withdrawal is to be lamented. Still, I can't go along with this suggestion from my friend Jeff Quinton of the Inside Charm City blog:
Since Drudge really isn’t that necessary anymore for news, and his scoops are few and far between anymore, why not drop Drudge? Remove his link from your website, de-link him from your blog and don’t link to him.
No. And not because I endorse what Drudge did. Rather, I think whatever blame there is in this matter must fall on Drudge's source. The sources were presumably parties to the agreement that kept details of the prince's deployment out of the news for three months.

It was the sources who broke the agreement. Drudge was never part of that agreement. Someone had a duty to keep this quiet, but that someone was not Matt Drudge.

Who leaked it to Drudge, and why? That's an interesting question, though I doubt we'll ever know the answer. I've never known Drudge to burn a source. But if you're looking for someone to blame in this affair, you need to ask yourself who that source might have been, and why they told Drudge.

Truth is a journalist's ultimate defense. When I was starting out in this business more than 20 years ago, my editors would tell me, "As long as you've got your facts straight, they can't touch you." For all the talk about how the New Media revolution has changed everything in the news business, that Old School rule still holds.

Of course, a smart journalist quickly figures out that he needs to earn his sources' trust, and that the ability to keep a secret -- making sure what's off the record stays off the record -- is essential to building a relationship of trust with those sources.

Drudge is no dummy. Reverse-engineering this Prince Harry story, I would bet that Drudge's source was someone in the British press corp who was eager to report on Prince Harry's Afghan adventure, but who was constrained by the agreement to keep his deployment secret. Therefore, the source tipped Drudge in order to blow away the agreement.

That's just a guess and, like I said, we'll probably never know the facts. But I still say that it is the source, and not Drudge, who bears the responsibility for this leak.
Linked at Newsbusters and Memeorandum -- thanks!


  1. I am stunned. Someone with a clue.
    I am so tired of the Drudge Derangement Syndrome.
    Why is no one upset that the media made a deal for access, that required them to censor their coverage?
    Seems like a lot people are out to lunch on this one.

    -- Mark L. Jackson

  2. the royal family probably leaked this just to keep up the apperances that harry was indeed a good bloat;;;;;

  3. newspapers in Australia broke the story before drudge; he only repeated an already publically divulged fact. Lay off. This is what journalists are supposed to do.