Alex Massie

Hillary’s Return?

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Ewen MacAskill reports that Hillary is indeed going to be Obama's Secretary of State. His report in the Guardian is entirely unsourced however - which is interesting because MacAskill is not a reckless reporter by any means. Even so, Josh Marshall says he doesn't believe anything any British paper publishes about American politics. My old friend Toby Harnden has a theory explaining what could have happened:

Maybe the almost complete lack of sourcing is a clue.

When that happens, what's usually going on is that a very senior person on the paper has been told something, is certain it's true and directs that the story be written, without furnishing many (or any) details or giving the reporter access to (or even the identity of) the source.

The best (or worst, depending on which way you look at it) example of this in recent years is the infamous 2004 New York Post "scoop" that Dick Gephardt was John Kerry's vice-presidential running mate. The source? Reputedly Rupert Murdoch. Interestingly, the phrasing on the story was "the Post has learned''.

This seems quite possible, perhaps even probable. Pity the poor reporter in these instances: you get little credit for being proved right and plenty of blame if, in fact, your super-reliable and in-the-know source turns out to be talking through his hat.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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