Hardly. After all, there were so many members of the press at a recent Hillary Clinton campaign event in Iowa, that one political expert (the Daily News gave him the tagline "sage" I refuse to do that.) said, "She's trying the intimate, living room approach, but how do you do that with 400 reporters following you? She's like a zoo animal in a cage with people going by to take a look and then talking about the aardvark they've just seen." Right. So they have things to cover.

Someone even wrote into the Chicago Tribune complaining that there was too much coverage. ("Maybe you should rename your paper the Obama News."? Ouch. They just keep coming.)

So why'd everyone fall into this trap? The New York Times reports that an online article on a website titled Insight Web (which does not even come up on the first page of google hits for those words) ran an anonymous article quoting anonymous sources who said that Clinton was going to say that Barack Obama went to a radical Islamic school while a child in Indonesia. (I know, it's confusing. Read the sentence twice.)

Let's look at how much of that was true: Clinton denies having said or having planned to say anything about Obama's schooling. Obama denies having gone to a radical Islamic school. The school, in fact, is secular. The true facts? Obama and Clinton are both interested in living in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008. Obama attended school in Indonesia. ( If you count Columbia as radical, then Obama attended a radical school. But then you are also probably Bill O'Reilly. ) That's it. The rest of the article, seems to be false. And, let's take a look at what one of the industry's top experts has to say about anonymous sources:

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times: "The larger import of your question is that anonymous quotes can be a tool for manipulating reporters. That is certainly true, which is why we have tried -- with some success, but not perfect success -- to fight the casual use of anonymous sources, and, when we need them, to do all we can to inform the readers about the reliability and motives of the unnamed source."

"If another news outlet puts out a story based heavily on unnamed sources, we're loath to take it on faith. "

"After Watergate, it became popular in the newspaper business to talk about a two-source rule: if you had a piece of information from two sources, you could print it. But I'd much rather have a single source with first-hand knowledge of the information than several sources who heard about it third-hand. Sourcing is mainly a qualitative problem. Our aim is not to curtail the use of anonymous sources for the sake of meeting a quota. Our aim is to make sure that when we do use anonymous sources, it is justified by the value of the information, and that we have given the readers critical information about the sources. As much as possible, we want to say whether the sources were in a position to actually KNOW what they told us, and whether they had a particular ax to grind. It's also useful to let the readers know why they insisted on having their names withheld. "

And, as a bonus, here is a whole column complete with links to The New York Times' policy on Anonymous sources.

And, from the story in question: "With so much anonymity, “How do we know that Insight magazine actually exists?” Professor Whitehead added. “It could be performance art.”

So what happened? Why did the press even validate this with an article? So many articles--a Lexis Nexis search for "Obama dismisses report he attended radical school" gets 125 hits--that The New York Times felt the need to run a story about how this was not a story on A1. I'm not sure how it happened. But it makes me queasy. One guess? Reporters for this website get paid almost as much PER STORY that I've gotten paid PER MONTH at various internships. If being poor keeps you honest, I'll be poor.

Here's a vote for focusing on the issues not the horse race. Especially if the horse race comes from anonymous sources.

Fox news apologized for bringing it up. ""In an interview, John Moody, a senior vice president at Fox News, said its commentators had erred by citing the Clinton-Obama report. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Mr. Moody said. "

Know what you are talking about. Good idea.

Photo of Rudy Giuliani's press gaggle from AP via Gothamist. (Just imagine how much bigger Obama's and Clinton's must be.)

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Written Pyramids is a blog written by a journalist living and working in Washington D.C.

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