Journalists Worried about Loss of Credibility from USA Today Phone Story

NewsBusters' Rich Noyes has reported on the Democratic affiliations of the USA Today reporter who "broke" the NSA phone records story.

Other journalists are worried about the loss of credibility to the profession in general if the story turns out to be false. Reports Editor and Publisher:

The USA Today phone records scoop, which is drawing increased scrutiny as phone companies dispute elements of the report, has also sparked interest among those in the news business, as well as longtime journalism observers.

Editors and veteran journalists who spoke with E&P are mixed on how the situation has been handled by all involved, with some claiming that the outcome could impact how news outlets report sensitive intelligence information in the future.

"This is shaping up to be a major test of the value of the press, the watchdog function of the press," said Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "If the press turns out to be right, they will have done a real service. If it turns out to be wrong, it will be a real blow to all of us."

Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, agreed with the seriousness of the situation, stressing that "nobody has denied the essence of that story, just that [the phone companies] gave documents to the government."

Marvin Kalb's defense is classic Rathergate, where the documents may not be real, but the general message of them is.

David Carlson, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, is also worried.

"If the story turns out to be wrong, it will hurt because the public will begin to distrust all of the reporting on domestic spying issues," Carlson said. "It also shows that we have to dig and verify stories and be careful about going the extra distance to get additional sources."

But Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, says whether the story was true or not did not matter to the credibility of journalism.

"I'm not worried about this being some great cosmic change in the debate," she said. "People who believe that journalists ought to be looking into these kinds of issues won't have their minds changed by this particular story one way or another."

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