The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Saturday, September 11, 2004

Undisclosed Sources II 

After writing my last post on this topic I got to thinking some more on the topic of "undisclosed sources", protecting sources, transparency, democracy, and hypocrisy. I know, that's a lot of cy's at the end. The media considers themselves to be one of the pillars of democracy. They are a check on government, investigating what it does, providing transparency by bringing government actions to the light of day. These are good things. It allows the governed (you and I) to hold government accountable for its actions, and to be better informed. Being informed is important, so that every time we go into the voting booth, you and I can make the best decision possible as it pertains to our lives and values.

But sometimes government takes actions based on sources that cannot be disclosed. Maybe there is a spy in another government, which if exposed would likely face death. Not only should his name not be shared out of fear for his life, but other sources would be less likely to come forward if they knew their lives would be easily forfeit. Sometimes intelligence comes from some secret technology that if disclosed would allow those we watch to enact a counter-measure against it. Is it acceptable to hide those sources under certain circumstances? I believe it is acceptable, but that those circumstances are definitely the exception and not the rule. If you use that method too often, when it is not really warranted, then you lose the trust of the people, and they demand to know even when they shouldn't. It becomes a sort of a Boy Who Cried Wolf situation for the government. The media would like to think that they are entitled to all the information all the time, and that it should choose what should be reported, and what should not. We'll decide if someone's life would be in danger, or if the story is "just too important" to hide that source. Who gave the media that responsibility? Who elected them? Nobody... but they don't want you to think about that.

Yet when it comes to the media's sources, and the media's intelligence (oxymoron I know), do they give us that same option? To they share their sources freely, and allow their reader to decide whether the story is valid given the source? Of course not... don't be foolish. They hide their sources even more often than the government does. They hide their sources even when their sources have lied and forged their evidence. And for what? Who does that protect? They would say that they do it so that their truthful sources will not be afraid to come forward. But at what cost? They do it at the cost of the trust that was built between us, which is quickly eroding. There may not be any official election for the media, but we do have capitalism. And I think that they will find soon that they are losing their hold on the office of government watchdog. Why? Because they won't let anyone watch them. Soon we'll all stop listening to them, and who does that ultimately serve? I'll leave that question as an exercise to the reader.


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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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