Assumptions are a journalist’s Achilles Heel

In reporting terrorist incidents like Friday’s massacre and bombing in Norway, we journalists violate a cardinal rule of the profession: report the facts, never assume.

The facts as they became clear over many hours never bore out the assumption fueled by pundits and terrorism experts with a vested interest in keeping their industry alive in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the marginalization of Al Qaeda that Islamists were responsible for the deaths in Oslo.
To be sure, the facts did not prove the opposite either. But instinctively it had to be jihadists, isn’t it?

No matter that reports of the arrest of a blonde, blue-eyed suspect emerged early on. He had to be a convert to Islam.

To be sure, the modus operandi of the Norwegian attacks had certain characteristics similar to past Al Qaeda operations: professional, deadly, multiple locations, high profile targets.

It didn’t matter that attacking a youth camp does not fit Al Qaeda’s modus operandi and that random killings are part of what has marginalized the group -- something that has dawned on the group.

The assumption fed our prejudices and has now proven wrong.

Assumptions stop us from fully weighing all available facts and making judgments exclusively on what we know and not on what we don’t know and therefore assume.

In doing so, we become our worst enemy and fail to meet our obligation to report the facts as we know them and build our analysis on those facts and only those facts.

Failing to do so takes us away from fulfilling our role of serving the public interest and holding others accountable. It undermines our claim to independence and non-regulation as the fourth estate.

In short, it makes us a party with a vested interest, no better than the pundits and authorities pushing a specific line, using the media to further their interests and hoping that we buy into the spin. 


Popular posts from this blog

Pakistan caught in the middle as China’s OBOR becomes Saudi-Iranian-Indian battleground

Israeli & Palestinian war crimes? Yes. Genocide? Maybe. A talk with Omer Bartov

Saudi religious diplomacy targets Jerusalem