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Journalism 101 -- How To Avoid Being A Propaganda Tool

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It's been a long, slow slide for CNN. The once-proud cable news pioneer has consistently crawled under the media's lowering bar, but this week it blazed a new trail to the bottom.

In at least one glaring example last week, the CNN editorial staff threw out the basics of textbook journalism in favor of racy innuendo. I don't blame reporters, I blame their bosses who don't insist on responsible reporting.

Reporters are pressured to find "edgy" and "sexy" stories to fill the never-ending news cycle. So, reporters make compromises. This week's most glaring compromise involved two things Americans like to talk about more than just about anything else--Viagra and Sex. I could shout "Viva Viagra" in an attempt to lighten things up a bit... but this story has far-reaching ramifications. It's no laughing matter.

Here's a quote from Russ Baker, reporter and editor of the investigative website whowhatwhy.com:

Last week at WhoWhatWhy we put out an important story about what's going unreported concerning the bombing of Libya. Now, our concern is about what is being reported. We're amassing indications that the Libya mass rape story being used to drum up support among NATO allies for continued bombing...may be false. In other words, part of an intense disinformation campaign. And one that is working, with the BBC the latest to buy into it.

Now we get CNN's titillating installment, which involves an alleged cell-phone video of a Libyan woman being sexually abused by alleged Gaddhafi loyalists and, for good measure, complete with all the repulsive details and heart-breaking screams. But this is where we have to pay close attention... because the reporter told us in the content of the story that it could actually be nothing more than planted propaganda.

She cautions: "We've been unable to verify its authenticity. We don't know where it was taken, or when, or by whom."

What? Did we read that right?

In any responsible newsroom, that alone is reason enough not to publish the story or run the video. Without confirmation and without knowing where and from whom it came, it is little more than a baseless story with no attribution. In fact, after running the story, CNN is in danger of propagating what appears to have become a massive disinformation campaign to drum up support for a war. And that's why reporters and editors always ask for multiple sources, direct attribution and some concrete evidence that the story is indeed based in fact. This is chapter one in any journalist's textbook. It keeps reporters from becoming little more than mouthpieces or stenographers and, Murrow Forbid, from reporting lies.

But this is how most news organizations operate today. They rush to out-titillate the competition without checking the facts and before considering whether or not they've been manipulated...and their eye-catching story simply planted.

Obviously, "We the people" need to buy newsroom bean counters a set of journalism textbooks, perhaps highlighting the chapter on how to avoid becoming a tool.