John F. Kennedy

Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

We live in an ethical epoch when editors at BuzzFeed and Politico have no scruples when a reporter sleeps with a prime source on her beat, after which she lands a prized New York Times job, at the very top of the journalism food chain.

Not that flexible conflict-of-interest standards are anything new. Ben Bradlee, as lauded as any journalist of his era, exploited a close friendship with President John F. Kennedy when he was Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, giving fits to his competitors at Time. Bradlee was covering events that, one could argue, that he had helped shape in his conversations with Kennedy.

In 2018, such stuff matters more than ever, given the low esteem of “mainstream media” performance. The latest evidence comes in a survey reported June 11 by the American Press Institute, The Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago.

We learn that 35 percent of Americans have a negative view of news organizations, and 42 percent think news coverage veers too far into commentary, while 63 percent want to get mostly facts alongside limited analysis. Importantly, 42 percent don’t understand how the use of anonymous sources works and 68 percent say the media should offer more information about story sources.

President Donald Trump’s frequently fake “fake news” attacks on reporters, of course, continually involve complaints about unnamed sources. For sure, the Washington press corps, which makes such lavish use of anonymous sources in coverage critical of the Trump administration, must do everything possible to maintain accuracy and fairness.

Once upon a time -- in 2005 -- the staff Credibility Group formed in the wake of the horrid Jayson Blair scandal advised New York Times colleagues in a report titled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust [.pdf here].” It warned that the daily should “keep unidentified attribution to a minimum” and “energetically” enforce limits across the board -- in hard news, features, magazine sections, and with copy from the growing number of freelance contributors.

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Memory eternal, C.S. Lewis: Another story on Nov. 22 that might be worth some ink

Memory eternal, C.S. Lewis: Another story on Nov. 22 that might be worth some ink

Here in the United States of America, Nov. 22 will always mean one thing on the news calendar. That's especially true in Texas and for folks like me who are natives of Dallas.

As you would expect, there was some mainstream coverage of the fact that today is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I expect some second-day coverage of events linked to the anniversary, as well.

However, on the other side of the Atlantic, this day also marks the 53rd anniversary of the death of another famous man -- a scholar and popular writer whose works are just as influential today as they were on the day he died. We're talking about C.S. Lewis.

I know that I am biased -- "The Great Divorce" is my favorite book -- but I am thinking that many Americans would want to know if there are any events on the other side of the pond, even coverage after the fact, marking this event. This 2013 story from The Independent -- timed for the 50th anniversary -- contains plenty of information to serve as a starting point.

CS Lewis: In the shadow of JFK's death...
The author of the 'Narnia' children's books, died an hour before Kennedy. His stepson recalls the day

The stepson is Douglas Gresham, known to some Americans for his role in promoting the work of Lewis and for playing a role in turning some of the Narnia books into mainstream movies. That series will be rebooted with the release of "The Silver Chair," which is expected in 2018.

This passage from the earlier story provides all the context that journalists would need:

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Washington Post looks at the Harris Wofford love story, but ignores a big Catholic ghost

Washington Post looks at the Harris Wofford love story, but ignores a big Catholic ghost

I realize that my reading habits are not those of your typical American news consumer. In addition to a heavy, heavy daily dose of the offerings of major newspapers and the websites of broadcast operations, I frequent many alternative sites linked to religious groups and commentators.

In other words, I am reading people who share GetReligion's obsession with the religion angles behind the headlines. I'm out there looking for religion "ghosts," of course.

This means that I first ran into news about that interesting wedding announcement by former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford -- made public in a New York Times commentary piece -- on an alternative Catholic news and commentary site, before I saw the mainstream coverage.

The headline on this piece by former CBS Evening News producer Greg Kandra (now the Catholic deacon blogging at "Headlines and Homilies") jumped on the religion angle: "At 90, Harris Wofford -- Former Senator and Catholic Convert -- Announces He’s Marrying a Man."

Does the "Catholic" angle really matter, in this case?

Let's look at the Washington Post coverage before we make a call on that question. Here is the overture. Prepare for some intense DC Beltway name dropping.

Harris Wofford, a former Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, John F. Kennedy’s presidential assistant on civil rights and an intimate of Martin Luther King Jr., will wed at his Foggy Bottom apartment Saturday before a gathering of family and friends. Dinner is to follow at a neighborhood Italian restaurant.
The groom is 90.

The other groom, Matthew Charlton, is 40.

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Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

Looking ahead: From 'Cuomo Catholicism' to questions about Jeb Bush

It's time for reporters to start preparing themselves for a new “religious issue” if, as expected, Jeb Bush runs for U.S. president.

Bush, a former Episcopalian who converted to wife Columba’s church in 1995, could become the first Roman Catholic to win the Republican nomination. In fact, his party has only chosen two Catholics for vice president and neither won that office (William Miller and Paul Ryan).
By contrast, the Democrats have named three for president (Al Smith, the sole Catholic president John F. Kennedy, and John Kerry) and four for vice president (Edmund Muskie, Sargent Shriver, Geraldine Ferraro, and the only one to serve, incumbent Joseph Biden).

Conservative writer Ira Stoll is right on top of things, pondering on Dec. 29 over at the libertarian reason.com site how Bush would handle the “Catholic question." 

For example, a 2013 Bush speech quoted in The Miami Herald said his views on immigration reflect “what my church teaches me.” That puts him to the left of the GOP field on the issue, and such remarks may trouble citizens who agree with President John F. Kennedy’s wariness toward any religious influences in public policy.

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