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Thread: Committing the ultimate journalistic sin

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    That cheeky buggerer Maxinquaye's Avatar
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    Committing the ultimate journalistic sin

    There is no rule more sancrosanct to a real journalist than this: protect your source.

    That means the journalist goes to jail rather than to reveal the source. Exposing the source is as grave a sin as you can imagine, because at the end journalism depends on whistleblowers and inside sources to expose what needs to be exposed.

    Regardless of what you think of a source - you might think the source is an odd smelly screwball that should be rotting in prison - you can not expose him or her.

    So, to do this...

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirh...urce-arrested/
    Computer security millionaire John McAfee’s surreal flight from Belizean law enforcement came to an end this week when he was detained (and then hospitalized) in Guatemala, as has been widely reported. A piece of the story that hasn’t been included in much of the reporting is how authorities figured out that McAfee — who was wanted for questioning in the shooting death of his neighbor — had fled Belize for Guatemala. McAfee’s location was exposed after he agreed to let two reporters from Vice Magazine tag along with him. Proud to finally be in the thick of a story rife with vices — drugs, murder, prostitutes, guns, vicious dogs, a fugitive millionaire and his inappropriately young girlfriend — they proudly posted an iPhone photo to their blog of Vice editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro standing with the source of the mayhem in front of a jungly background, saying, “We are with John McAfee right now, suckers.”
    In that picture, there were GPS tags that let the authorities track down McAfee.

    This might sound good and well for everyone. Good that a criminal was caught, and now he can get his day in court. But professionally, what those journalists did was inexcusable.

    And it actually harms everyone. What remains of serious journalism, and serious watch-dogging, demands that journalists don't do stupid shit like this that expose their sources.

    Sometimes I'm glad I'm not in the business any more. This is not the business that the 18 year old me slid into on a banana peel. My old editor would be spinning in his grave if he knew.
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    Capeless, wingless, & yet I fly. SuperModerator Williebee's Avatar
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    Ther seems to be a bit more to it than this:

    From Wired
    Then, it [Vice] followed up this egregiously stupid action with a far worse one. Vice photographer Robert King apparently lied on his Facebook page and Twitter in order to protect McAfee. Like McAfee, he claimed that the geodata in the photo had been manipulated to conceal their true location.

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    That cheeky buggerer Maxinquaye's Avatar
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    Yeah, I mean, not to make a comparison to this case, but everyone would agree that Woodward and Bernstein's protection of Deep Throat was a good thing. Otherwise Nixon's illegality would never have been exposed.

    For all we know, Deep Throat could be a horribly obnoxious vindictive personality, and he (or she) may very well have committed serious crimes by leaking to Woodward and Bernstein.

    Journalists must protect the sources. Even if they work at what appear to be fairly vile rags like Vice.
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    Gentleman. Scholar. Bastard. willietheshakes's Avatar
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    No one is confusing anyone from Vice magazine with a serious journalist.

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    Capeless, wingless, & yet I fly. SuperModerator Williebee's Avatar
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    As the subject of the criminal investigation the story was about, and the subject of the piece, is McAfee's status as "source" questionable?

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    Gentleman. Scholar. Bastard. willietheshakes's Avatar
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    I was just coming back to raise that very point, Williebee -- fugitive, not source.

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    Capeless, wingless, & yet I fly. SuperModerator Williebee's Avatar
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    Can he be both?

    "There's a Voodoo Game on in the Crescent City. Pray for the Pawns."

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    That cheeky buggerer Maxinquaye's Avatar
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    Yes, he is a source. Even if he is known as an informant, he is a source. Journalists can never enter into a position where they appear to work for the authorities. It's unethical because it undermines the whole system, and it undermines the role of the journalist. Even if the journalist is not working for a reputable magazine.

    It's like confession. A priest can never tell the authorities what is told in confession. It's sort of the same thing.
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    Capeless, wingless, & yet I fly. SuperModerator Williebee's Avatar
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    How could he be known as an informant if he is the subject of both the story and the investigation? He's an informant on himself?

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    Legally speaking, reporters are imprisoned for contempt when they refuse a court order to reveal the confidential source of reported information or to testify about information provided to them in confidence. There are journalist shield laws in some states, but they vary in how far and what they protect. The legal protection is not nearly as comprehensive as the privilege afforded to priests.

    McAfee may be their source, but he clearly wasn't a confidential source if these guys were reporting on their travels with him. And bragging about his proximity via iPhone photo on their boss's blog isn't the same thing as intentionally cooperating with the authorities trying to arrest him.

    Yes, they were silly and unprofessional about announcing that they were in the presence of their fugitive source in a way that revealed his whereabouts. However, I doubt it will undermine the concept of protecting source confidentiality within the profession. Quite possibly, it will make reporters more careful of how they communicate electronically in the future.

    And while it may make potential sources more wary about dealing with reporters who aren't demonstrably tech-savvy, it probably won't stop them. Heck, it didn't stop McAfee, and he's presumably as capable of understanding the risks of an iPhone in the hands of a reporter as anyone.

  11. #11
    It's a doggy dog world benbradley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxinquaye View Post
    There is no rule more sancrosanct to a real journalist than this: protect your source.

    That means the journalist goes to jail rather than to reveal the source. Exposing the source is as grave a sin as you can imagine, because at the end journalism depends on whistleblowers and inside sources to expose what needs to be exposed.

    Regardless of what you think of a source - you might think the source is an odd smelly screwball that should be rotting in prison - you can not expose him or her.

    So, to do this...

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirh...urce-arrested/


    In that picture, there were GPS tags that let the authorities track down McAfee.

    This might sound good and well for everyone. Good that a criminal was caught, and now he can get his day in court.
    Criminal? What has he been convicted of?

    I'm looking and haven't seen where he's even been charged with anything:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/bu...-of-story.html
    Soon, the Guatemalan police were with John McAfee. This weekend, he is in their custody and is expected to be extradited to Belize, where he faces questioning in connection with the murder of Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old American who was his neighbor.
    Okay, it appears the Guatemalan police have charged him with entering Guatemala illegally, but I don't know if that's what you mean. The story says there are "reports" that he is a "person of interest" in the death of his neighbor, but that's still not a criminal charge.

    ETA: Is this usually how extradition works? All the other country has to say is "our police want to question him in regard to a criminal matter" with no formal charge against him, and the country he's in ships him over?
    Quote Originally Posted by Williebee View Post
    As the subject of the criminal investigation the story was about, and the subject of the piece, is McAfee's status as "source" questionable?
    Quote Originally Posted by willietheshakes View Post
    I was just coming back to raise that very point, Williebee -- fugitive, not source.
    Fugitive from what? Being a "person of interest?"
    Last edited by benbradley; 12-10-2012 at 07:24 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Williebee View Post
    How could he be known as an informant if he is the subject of both the story and the investigation? He's an informant on himself?
    I think you missed something here. Weren't the reporters from Vice magazine the "source" involved in Max's OP?

    Aside from that, having worked as a reporter for several years, and once having been threatened with a situation like this, involving a murder investigation, the issue isn't a simple black v. white choice, as is presented in the OP. I just posted an update to the specific serial killer thread I started a week or so ago. With the person involved there, in the theoretical instance of him having come to me to produce, under "journalistic privilege", the story of his exploits, I would turn him in to authorities in a heartbeat. If someone else had come to me with claims of exclusive information about such a person, it would depend on what they had, or alleged to have. But at some point common sense and societal concerns enter the equation, and they might override idealistic journalism principles.

    And it would have little or nothing to do with any threat of being jailed. In the instance I mentioned, I was vaguely threatened with that outcome (contempt of court), but the situation was resolved before I had to face any such decision. I had reported on a key piece of evidence against the accused killer, information given to me by someone in public office who had reason to know, and which I had no reason to question. The accused decided to plead guilty to avoid a trial, so nothing further came to pass. I really don't know what my decision would have been, had push come to shove.

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    Capeless, wingless, & yet I fly. SuperModerator Williebee's Avatar
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    I think you missed something here. Weren't the reporters from Vice magazine the "source" involved in Max's OP?

    Aside from that, having worked as a reporter for several years, and once having been threatened with a situation like this, involving a murder investigation, the issue isn't a simple black v. white choice, as is presented in the OP.
    Max, I think, was indicating that McAfee was Vice's "source". Is that right, Max?

    As for the rest, I agree with you. I'm just pointing out that it isn't as simple as the Vice reporters treating McAfee as a "source."

    In this particular case it is Belize that wants him, not the U.S. -- so does the journalistic shield apply? (As far as Belize is concerned.)

    "There's a Voodoo Game on in the Crescent City. Pray for the Pawns."

    "Murder at the Beach" -- Anthony Award Nominated Anthology!

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    we are the words 'i love you' kuwisdelu's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ketzel View Post
    The legal protection is not nearly as comprehensive as the privilege afforded to priests.
    Is that so? I didn't even know there was any legal protection given to priests for that. Is it a specific privilege, or does it just fall under freedom of religion trumping a subpoena?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maxinquaye View Post
    For all we know, Deep Throat could be a horribly obnoxious vindictive personality, and he (or she) may very well have committed serious crimes by leaking to Woodward and Bernstein.
    The identity of "Deep Throat" is now known: Mark Felt, of the FBI:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Felt

    Felt gave Woodward permission to reveal his identity shortly before he died in 2008.

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    Psychopompous AW Moderator RichardGarfinkle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Is that so? I didn't even know there was any legal protection given to priests for that. Is it a specific privilege, or does it just fall under freedom of religion trumping a subpoena?
    It isn't that priests per se are protected it's that certain communications are privileged. Privileged communications cannot, in general, be legally forced into the light.
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedicti...+communication

    There are specific kinds of communication such as doctor-patient, clergy-penitent, attorney-client, and marital that are privileged.

    <Derail Risk>
    Marital privilege is one of the rights denied by laws forbidding same-sex marriage.
    </Derail Risk>

    There have been attempts to pass Shield Laws which create a journalist-source privilege. In the US a number of states have them. But there is no Federal Sheld Law, so the US government isn't restricted.

    YMMV nation by nation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kuwisdelu View Post
    Is that so? I didn't even know there was any legal protection given to priests for that. Is it a specific privilege, or does it just fall under freedom of religion trumping a subpoena?
    In the US, the priest-penitent privilege pre-dates the First Amendment (although the First Amendment is a big concern in the discussions going on today about potentially limiting the privilege in connection with the various clergy child abuse scandals.) Some states have specific statutory protections - here's a link to Oregon's if you are interested. It's fairly typical. http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/40.260

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    In this instance the journalists didn't intentionally out their source. They were stupid, yes. And should have known they could be tracked by their phones. Idiots. But it has nothing to do with journalistic integrity, in my mind. That would be like saying a journalist meets a source at a street corner and a traffic cam catches the image of the journalist and their source and the source is arrested. It isn't the same as naming the source, just a technological unawareness.
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    practical experience, FTW patskywriter's Avatar
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    For me, the ultimate journalistic transgression would be accepting or asking for money for interviews, appearances, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by patskywriter View Post
    For me, the ultimate journalistic transgression would be accepting or asking for money for interviews, appearances, etc.
    I'd put knowingly reporting false information as true at the top of the list, personally.

    Of course, that assumes reporters have some credibility to exploit, which seems decreasingly true these days.

  21. #21
    Clever title pending. MarkEsq's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by patskywriter View Post
    For me, the ultimate journalistic transgression would be accepting or asking for money for interviews, appearances, etc.
    For me it'd be working for Fox News.

  22. #22
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    I think I'd put lying above accidentally disclosing the location of a source on the whole heirarchy of journalistic rule-breaking.

    I mean, let's be clear. They didn't "Disclose a source." They had permission to travel with the guy, and obviously he knew his photo would be taken. It's not like they put a name out that wasn't there before. His name and face were well known - at least to the people who were searching for him. What they did is use their technology unwisely - not disclose an anonymous source.
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  23. #23
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    Society of Professional Journalists Code Of Ethics
    *Seek Truth and Report It
    *Minimize Harm
    *Act Independently
    (Points include: —Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
    — Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
    — Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.)
    *Be Accountable

    So, they started out by accepting free travel from him (A no-no).
    Then, they mistakenly sent out a picture with the meta-data in tact. (a boo-boo)
    And then, they lied about it. (Very BIG no-no)

    Two of these things were intentional - one was stupid.
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  24. #24
    Benefactor Member Manuel Royal's Avatar
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    I'm still a little unclear on what the term "source" means in journalism. Is McAfee a source for information on anything but himself?
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  25. #25
    That cheeky buggerer Maxinquaye's Avatar
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    A source is a source of information. The source may be anonymous or not. A source is a source. At least that was how I was taught. In this case McAfee is the source.

    An extreme example then, do plot out the border-lands of ethics and duty and responsibiliy for a real journalist. Prior to Osama bin Laden's death, some journalist in the USA had a phone call. Osama wanted to do an interview, a personal interview, with that journalist.

    Before the agreement to do it, the journalist is not bound by any ethics. He can ring the police and yell, Osama called me. But at the moment he says "Right, let's do it" he's bound. When Osama sends him a direction to the cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan, protecting the source - even though everyone knows who it is - means that the journalist must go to prison before divulging the location of the cage.

    The journalist can never in his capacity as a journalist become an agent for an outside force; a state, organisation, church, whatever.
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