This is a cautionary tale about reporters eagerly attacking other reporters working a developing story. Because it’s not possible to provide evidence as quickly as some might demand it doesn’t mean the story is false.
On July 24, Kimberly Dvorak, of the Examiner, and Don Amato, of the blog Digger’s Realm, broke the story about two Texas ranches outside of Laredo, Texas, being seized by members of Los Zetas drug cartel. Today, Ms. Dvorak posted a copy of the police blotter which provides a good deal of the information necessary to confirm her initial story’s claims:
After 16 days of denials by Laredo law enforcement and local officials regarding a Mexican drug cartel takeover of a Laredo area ranch, a Texas police blotter proves the alleged incident did in fact happen and that multiple agencies responded to the scene of a seized U.S. ranch…
“On Friday 7-23-10 Laredo Webb informed that their county SWAT Team is conducting an operation in the Mines Rd. area. According to LT. Garcia with LSO (Laredo Sheriff Office) received a call from a ranch owner stating that the Zetas had taken over his ranch. As per the 17 (reporting person) he informed them that they stated La Compania (area business) was taking the ranch and no one was permitted on the ranch without permission. SO (Sheriff Office) will have an unmarked green Ford Taurus with two officers stationed at Los Compadres and a white Chevy Tahoe with two officers stationed at Mineral Rd. The LSO (Laredo Sheriff Office) will maintain surveillance in the area and advise if action is taken. Susp (suspect) Veh (vehicle) are described as a gray or silver Audi, a BLK (black) Escalade or Navigator and a van truck with a logo of a car wash spot free on the side. Border Patrol also has their response team on scene. Also known info of BMW’s and Corvettes entering and leaving the area. Auth LT Lichtenberger if assistance is requested LPD (Laredo Police Department) will secure the outer perimeter. (07/24/10 07:42:10 NR1873)”
Dvorak’s latest post confirmed several details that I had been able to ascertain through other sources. One important detail was different: only one ranch was investigated and under surveillance, not the two originally reported.
The original story quoted multiple anonymous sources in law enforcement and was quickly picked up by Michelle Malkin, Jawa Report, Big Peace and DBKP among others. Almost as quickly, the story was branded an Internet rumor,” “conspiracy theory,” a “hoax” or outright lies by the usual suspects from the Progressive Left/amnesty crowd.
One expected this crew to crank out immediate rebuttals–without offering any proof–such as Right-Wingers Stand By Their Fabricated Mexican Drug Cartel Raid Story.” What one didn’t expect was for Soros-financed attack dog Media Matters to cite a right-leaning blogger as evidence the story was a “rumor”–not once, but twice.
Law enforcement was not denying the story. I tried six times to get the Laredo PD to flat-out deny the story, but received a host of “can’t confirm” and “can’t say anything.” A tip for the aspiring reporter: be aware of the “non-denial denial.” Spokesmen who are trying to keep a lid on a story –because of a continuing investigation, so as not to scare off targets of surveillance, for whatever reasons — will often offer a host of creative answers in lieu of a flat-out, simple “no.” It’s often not only advisable, but necessary, to parse carefully what spokesmen say.
Local media sources confirmed on July 28 that no written statement had been issued and that no local law enforcement officers had issued a simple denial. It’s telling that despite reports of “numerous media inquiries,” local law enforcement issued no written statement for nearly a week after the story broke.
The local paper, the Laredo Morning Times, reported on the story, confirming that no law enforcement agency had gone on the record with an outright denial. After speaking several times with the paper’s reporter, Nick Georgiou, I felt that his story was very fair — but it wasn‘t a rebuttal.
However, the LMT’s article was offered as proof that the story was a hoax. As one blogger put it, “You’d think the local paper would know, wouldn’t you?”
Not content with merely disagreeing with what local law enforcement was saying, within 24 hours of the story breaking, one blogger tagged those who had reported the story “Laredo Truthers” — which likely set a record for the quickest use of the discussion-quashing “truther” label. It was after this salvo that Big Journalism published The MSM in the Fog of War: What’s Going On in Laredo, Tex.? In it, I laid out several reasons why the story might well be true.
Pat Dollard — who covered aspects of the story — said, “Keep in mind the Top Two Big Scores for bloggers: 1. The Scoop and 2. The “I’m Superior Because I Didn’t Fall For A False Scoop” post. The myth-busting Laredo “debunkers”–who are citing a phone call to a heretofor-unknown-to-them source at a police department (a source who any reporter of police matters knows may have to issue denials of events in order to protect ongoing investigations, or ongoing operations pertaining to those events) as full and final evidence of the falsity of Dvorak’s story–are chasing the second, and at this point in the game are heavily invested in it.
The final irony? In this case the only people guilty of lazy, sloppy, shoddy, agenda-driven, factually incorrect reporting — the ones who owe the world a retraction, and who owe an apology to Kimberly Dvorak.
Another guess: there is a subset of the blogosphere which is terrified that they will report a “planted story” by the Left and, by the very act of reporting, will lose “credibility.” Their motto seems to be, “If it’s not on CNN, it didn’t happen.”
Why even have a New Media, if it acts like the Old Legacy Media? Whatever happened to just reporting the story — especially one that’s developing, instead of hastily rushing to quash it? Sources who come forward with information may begin by remaining anonymous. However, they may encourage others to later come forward on the record. “Anonymous” sources doesn’t necessarily mean “not credible” sources.
With the 2010 and 2012 elections coming up, there will likely be stories that take longer to develop than a single blog post. Because the MSM doesn’t quickly confirm them, they shouldn’t be strangled in the cradle by those who come late to the story or disagree from afar.
Just ask Brad Thor.