March 22, 2005

FUDWatch - NYT breathless on wireless terrorism

In the humour department, Cubicle points to Wendy who says:

Without a hint of irony, however [NYT breathlessly reported that]:

“Two federal law enforcement officials said on condition of anonymity that while they were not aware of specific cases, they believed that sophisticated terrorists might also be starting to exploit unsecured Wi-Fi connections.”

Yes, even law enforcement needs anonymity sometimes.

To which Cubicle comments that "Personally, I think that the reason that most of the “sources” are anonymous is because they don’t exist." Say Amen to that. Read the rest for some good FUD trashing by Cubicle.

There's a market here for a FUDwatch site that gives awards to the crappiest security news.

Posted by iang at March 22, 2005 10:43 AM | TrackBack

Bad FUD, but one objection.

>To which Cubicle comments that "Personally, I think that the
>reason that most of the “sources” are anonymous is because >they don’t exist." Say Amen to that.

Slate's Jack Shafer has been picking on anonymous sources as well. While some anonymous sources abuse their confidants in the press and the public, can the pro-anonymity community really say "because lots of anonymous sources are bad, we should boycott them."

Either you think that the social benefit for anonymous {sources/communication/transactions} is high enough to surmount the almost-assured abuse of such systems, or you don't. But given the similarities, I would think that we would not be so quick to disparage the anonymous nature of a bad source, rather than the *bad* nature of a bad source.

Posted by: allan friedman at March 22, 2005 11:47 AM

The irony (almost hypocrisy) is what made it funny.

Lest anyone think my issue here is with anonymous sources in general, I am in favor of the use of anonymous sources where appropriate. I absolutely agree that there are cases where going "On The Record" would be detrimental to a person's livelihood or even their health.

I also think that you must consider why the source is anonymous--is there a risk to their stating a fact publically? That is the reason that newspapers have conditions for when a source may be anonymous, and guidelines for how to handle it. Jack Shafer has consistently called out abuses of anonymous sources for over five years, abuse generally being defined as, "Not in keeping with the paper's anonymous sourcing policy."

This case definitely doesn't meet that test, as he has now pointed out himself. Here, you have an anonymous source whose opinion supports the story but whose fact contradicts the story. Return to the quote:

...while they were not aware of specific cases, they believed...

There's no evidence that terrorists are using unsecured wi-fi, which we are to implicitly assume these anonymous sources would know about if there was.

So why is this even in the story? Because if it wasn't there would be no Terrorism Angle--you could cut that entire paragraph from the story (and improve the quality of the journalism as a result) and it becomes just another case of Cops Not Keeping Up With Technology.

Posted by: Chandler Howell at March 22, 2005 01:47 PM

Hey, I entirely agree with you guys. Anonymity is a tool that can be used and abused like all others. And, the spread of FUD has now become so thick on the ground that it may one day become quite routine to lie about anonymous sources without even thinking about it.

Where this takes us I don't know. Getting rid of anonymity is the same as turning off the net, so that's not really an option (although some will try). I think it means that we simply have to call bad media's bluff as much as possible, and be accurate ourselves.

Posted by: Iang at March 22, 2005 02:03 PM
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