Journalism requires due diligence

Posted 5/04/2009 01:30:00 PM

Leaving out the context and failing to assure his readers that he’s not being used as a tool in a political game means Joe Monahan’s reporting on criminal probes and other matters can’t be taken seriously

Marjorie Childress, a colleague of mine at the New Mexico Independent, is right on today in her observations about the reporting of political blogger Joe Monahan and his alligators.

And though I don’t usually get involved in criticism of Monahan, today’s posting on his site about the federal investigation of allegations of pay to play in the Richardson administration is fairly egregious in its cavalier handling of serious allegations that could have a big impact on people’s lives.

Monahan named two officials who are in some way connected to the circumstances the grand jury is investigating: Amanda Cooper, one of Richardson’s top political operatives, and Chris Romer, a Colorado politico who worked for one of the companies that’s part of the investigation.

Monahan reports that both have been given immunity by federal prosecutors.

The problem is, he doesn’t provide any context. If it’s true, what does that mean? It’s a valid question raised by Childress on her blog, m-pyre:

“Does that mean they’ve admitted to wrongdoing? Or would they simply not agree to talk to the grand jury about what they may or may not know without immunity?

“We don’t know, because Monahan doesn’t give us any context or anything on the record. He simply passes on the leak as it was handed to him. Someone gave him some info, possibly with an agenda, and he obliged them by getting it out there.

“It’s those hidden agendas that one has to keep in mind when it comes to Monahan’s blogging about real people who’ve built real careers. Because without real facts and real context, we’re left with a general perception of wrongdoing that may be completely off base, and for certain quite damaging to those people he’s writing about.”

And that’s the real problem. Monahan’s blog is, as Childress points out, “the place that a certain sector of New Mexico’s political class leaks information.” In addition to leaving out the context for the information he’s reporting, Monahan tells us nothing about his sources in today’s posting other than that they are “people familiar with the matter.”

How do we know why they talked to Monahan? What if they’re trying to sway public opinion by selectively giving him some facts but leaving out others?

By his own admission, Monahan passes on what he’s told without independently verifying it or doing due diligence to ensure that it’s true. When he reports something that he later learns was inaccurate, he publicly chastises an “alligator” for giving him incorrect information… as if the burden isn’t on him to independently verify what his alligators are telling him and assure his readers that he’s not being used as a tool in a political game.

That’s not journalism.

What Monahan writes, especially as it relates to alleged criminal activity, has a real effect on people’s lives. He should take that fact more seriously.

Until he does that, it’s impossible to take what he reports seriously.

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At 2:43 PM, May 04, 2009, Blogger Michael Swickard said...

The first rule of journalism: Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.

The second rule of journalism: be aware and careful of possible mistaken inferences.

The third rule of journalism: never be the vehicle of harm; each reporter is professionally responsible for the damage they cause through mistakes and misinterpretations.

This is not to muzzle journalists, it is to explain journalistic professionalism which is sadly lacking in today’s world. I commend Heath for living the life of a journalist. I have worked with journalists for 40 years and Heath exemplifies that journalistic professionalism.

At 2:46 PM, May 04, 2009, Blogger LP said...

The problem isn't that it isn't journalism -- Monahan freely admits that it's not journalism.

The problem is that it is irresponsible. It is irresponsible to pass on such information that, as you say, "has a real effect on people's lives" without any sort of verification to whether or not it is true.

And politicians use him to further their own agenda.

It is that type of blogging that gives all bloggers a bad name.

At 3:18 PM, May 04, 2009, Blogger Joseph Cummins said...


I visited Mr. Monahan's site and read the mentioned article(s) and found nothing out of the ordinary in the realm of blogville.

Yet, in essence I totally agree with your assessment and all such slanted opinion often referred to as journalism should be exposed to the light of day.

Unfortunately, most info reported by media (print or voice) is rife with innuendo and/or conflicting facts.

Over the years, I've learned that anything relating to politics deserves at least a skeptical eye, because there are usually multiple unspoken operative agendas carefully sandwiched within specific words.

Sadly, even scientific journalism that is supposedly guided by empirical evidence has succumbed to political agendas, particularly if tax payer revenue (grants) is at stake. For instance: try to find any online scientific article that does not contain these 3 vague words (may, might and could), which constantly poke the eye.

Separating illusion from fact within the art of journalism -- is difficult and at same time tantalizing.

At 10:31 PM, May 04, 2009, Blogger Paul said...

Blogging will never be radio will never be journalism...blogging provides the reader with the chance to read other views and respond, sometimes. Bloggers are not accountable anymore than they want to be read.

At 6:40 AM, May 05, 2009, Blogger wedum59 said...

Monahan does what he does very well, as do you and Wold. All of these publications are informative, and I appreciate the different perspectives. Now play nicely, children.


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