Last week, we wrote about an article in the New York Times by Kate Zernike that included as a source a person identified as "one person on a blog." This raised several questions, the first being, "Huh, what? Is that actually a sound thing to do, journalistically speaking?" The answer to that question was, of course, "No." This point was deftly underscored by the first-on-the-scene Eclectablog, who summed it up thusly: "The New York Times blew it on this one."
But it left something unanswered: where did Zernike find this random person on a blog in the first place? Happily, thanks to Kevin Hoffman, the editor-in-chief of City Pages, that mystery has been solved: it's from an anonymous commenter on their site.
On Tuesday, February 15, we published a post about the brewing debate over breastfeeding between Michele Bachmann and First Lady Michelle Obama. The post attracted no small amount of interest, including Star Tribune columnist James Lileks, who took issue with our picture of Bachmann breastfeeding in an article published yesterday in the New York Post.
Among the comments on the blog post itself was the one that the New York Times quoted. You'll notice that the Gray Lady took the liberty of cleaning up the mispelling of Bachmann's first name (how many times do we have to tell you guys, it's "Michele" not "Michelle") as well as the butchering of "mackerel" (maybe we need to invest in spell-check for comments?).
This is why I was unable to find it! I had generously assumed that the quote had accurate spellings of "Michele" and "Bachmann" and "mackerel," and so I Googled accordingly. Here's the original comment as it ran on City Pages:
Now, here's where things get interesting! This particular anonymous commenter adds nothing else to the discussion on City Pages. Whoever it was left the comment and moved on. But Zernike doesn't:
"Holy mackerel, I might have to agree with Michele Bachmann on this one!" noted one person on a blog.
A new mother who called herself a progressive Brooklynite -- and would not be identified for fear of scorn from her Democratic friends and other mothers -- said that while she hated "just about everything to do with Bachmann's politics, she is not completely wrong here."
"I support what the first lady is trying to do, but I also think there's already enough pressure on working moms," she said. "Yes, breast is best, but there are plenty of mothers who love and care for their children, but simply can't pump -- for time, work or physical reasons."
When I originally read those three paragraphs, I read them as if the same source was responsible for the commentary throughout: that the "person on a blog" began with the "holy mackerel" comment and then expanded upon it. The picture in my mind of "Holy Mackerel" person was that she was the "progressive Brooklynite" who did not want to be "identified for fear of scorn from her Democratic friends."
Now, if you're defending this piece, you probably say, "Well, Jason, we're not responsible for you misreading the article!" To which I would reply, "Then why include a random, unsourceable anonymous comment (that you had to clean up because of misspellings) in the piece at all, as it is rendered completely superfluous by this second anonymous person?"
Anonymous blog commenters: I'm sure they are nice people, but please do not use them as sources, especially in this misleading fashion.
PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Random Anonymous People With Unidentified Blogs Are Apparently Allowed To Be Sources For The New York Times