"In 'The Dilemma of the Evil but Truthful Source,' published in Media Ethics in Spring 2011, I incorrectly wrote that two San Francisco Chronicle reporters—who broke the BALCO/Barry Bonds baseball athlete doping scandal in late 2004—had reported, knowing it was false, an allegation made by one of their sources, a defense lawyer in the case. This lawyer had accused a government agent of responsibility for the “leaks” of secret grand jury proceedings that the lawyer himself had made to the reporters.
In fact, the reporters—Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams—did not include the lawyer’s false accusation in their Oct. 9, 2004 story on his Motion to Dismiss the case. That motion does contain this allegation, for which the lawyer was eventually imprisoned.
My statement that the reporters knowingly reported a falsehood is therefore incorrect, and was based on a misreading of their article.
In addition, the reporters have reproached me for not contacting them before writing my article. It had not occurred to me that they might be willing to discuss their dealings with a confidential source whom they had not previously acknowledged—but had I done so, they would have alerted me to this misunderstanding, which I regret."
The above Correction will be posted with the mediaethicsmagazine.com online version of the original article. Unfortunately, we cannot physically add a correction to the print edition of the Spring 2011 issue of Media Ethics.
Media Ethics tries never to be complacent about the accuracy of the material it publishes, and we are glad to set the record straight on this matter. And we vividly appreciate the values of reputation and credibility to journalists. Obviously, we hope that our actions in publishing the original story (and the above correction by Prof. Wasserman and this note) haven’t injured anyone in any way.
But we are particularly, professionally and profoundly interested in the role of the press in accepting information from “sources” who cannot easily be evaluated by the public. The dozens of e-mails that have been written by Ed Wasserman, Lance Williams, Mark Fainaru-Wada, the undersigned and others about this story, situation, and topic—although for the most part not intended for publication—are very intriguing. They bring up a number of questions that should be of interest and even concern to all the readers of this magazine.
These questions are pertinent to this magazine’s mission, something we can’t and won’t say about the BALCO/Barry Bonds case itself.
The questions still on our agenda about this situation include such matters and topics as (in no particular order) privacy, confidentiality (as it affects both reporters and sources), legal privilege, the education and socialization of reporters, the role of academics in these processes, the role of media proprietors, testing the veracity and knowledge of sources and the validity and reliability of the information they supply, the possibility of reporters being “used” by sources with axes to grind, protection of anonymous or vulnerable sources, sharing or “vetting” information with other reporters, the rights and needs of the public for information and knowledge, the roles of lawyers, the role of reporters and editors—and even curiosity about the proper relationships between “law” and “justice.”
In my role as editor of this magazine, I hope that readers in the future will be able to submit manuscripts sharing the results of their thinking about these topics and questions.
John Michael Kittross, Editor