WHO AND WHAT IS A “JOURNALIST?”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 19, 2019) — Over the last quarter-century, the arrival and burgeoning of the Internet has largely shifted the major purveyors of news from traditional, print publications to literally millions of online outlets boasting “breaking news” and eye-catching headlines.
With Americans’ trust severely eroded in “mainstream” news sources, numerous bloggers, amateur and professional writers, and broadcast hosts on such platforms as YouTube, Vimeo and Brighteon have worked to grow audiences and “followers” with the potential for significant monetization and name recognition without the benefit of cable or network television stations.
As opposed to a journalist, a blogger, commentator or program host may include speculation and opinion in his or her work. However, both traditional and non-traditional media personalities who claim to be “journalists” do not often meet the rigorous standards of delivering unfiltered truth based on solid investigative research.
In contrast with a blogger, pundit, show host or commentator, a journalist must function as a neutral finder and conveyor of fact. In recent years, such media giants as The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News and CNN as well as secondary news sources, particularly those on the internet, have presented current events through the lens of their own agendas rather than in an objective fashion which presents both sides of a story.
As in the pre-internet age of mechanically-produced term papers, traditional print books and magazines, and local and national newspaper dailies, verification and attribution of sources remains essential. In recent years, both The New York Times and CNN, respectively, have employed “journalists” who failed to adequately source their information or committed the fatal journalistic transgression of plagiarism, with both leading to job terminations.
As of this writing, a website appearing to have been established with the clear intent of plagiarizing all of The Post & Email’s original work continues to flagrantly violate U.S. copyright law and any semblance of legitimacy by removing all bylines, failing to properly identify the source, and neglecting to provide a link back to each article’s place of origin.
An effective journalist will always be mindful to withhold his own opinion from his reporting. He or she will refrain from lodging accusations, invoking labels, speculating and reaching conclusions not supported by facts and evidence in hand. In the course of his work, a journalist cultivates sources which prove themselves accurate and reliable over time. The source, too, ideally develops confidence in the journalist’s ability to report the facts accurately, neutrally and timely while maintaining confidentiality when warranted.
With the American mainstream media’s abrogation of its responsibility to maintain a clear delineation between “news” and “editorial” to the point of publishing propaganda, the need for accurate reportage has never been greater. A number of bloggers and website owners have arguably begun to fill that gap.
An article by The Houston Chronicle describing the traits of an effective journalist states, “The public expects and deserves prompt, accurate and objective information. Professional newspaper journalists dedicate their life to reporting the news no matter what the personal risk. For instance, newspaper journalists may rush to the scene of an ongoing hostage siege, school shootings or natural disaster to interview police and witnesses. If you are thinking about a journalism career, ask yourself if you have the qualities of courage, integrity and fairness. You also need superior written, verbal and interpersonal skills to excel as a newspaper journalist.”
“A solid ethical core characterizes a good journalist,” the article continues. “Fairness, objectivity and honesty matter when reporting everything from local referendums and proposed state tax increases to presidential elections. Professional journalists abhor fake news based on rumor, innuendo and unverifiable anonymous tips.”
An “investigative journalist,” as opposed to a television or print reporter, will immerse herself in fact-gathering from numerous sources, sometimes for months or years on a single topic, to uncover information obscured from public view. According to the Global Investigative Journalism Network, “Veteran trainers note that the best investigative journalism employs a careful methodology, with heavy reliance on primary sources, forming and testing a hypothesis, and rigorous fact-checking. The dictionary definition of ‘investigation’ is ‘systematic inquiry,’ which typically cannot be done in a day or two; a thorough inquiry requires time. Others point to the field’s key role in pioneering new techniques, as in its embrace of computers in the 1990s for data analysis and visualization.”
An essay on the differences between “journalism” and “investigative journalism” published by Columbia University states, in part:
For the most part, journalists do not set the news agenda. Instead, they take the information they have been given by weighing its significance (does the president’s statement, for example, deserve to be on the front page of a newspaper or the first five minutes of a newscast?), checking its accuracy, and putting it in context. The news reporter’s job is to confirm the facts of the story, make sense of them and to put them together in a coherent report. Investigative reporting, however, does not just report the information that has been given out by others – whether it is government, political parties, companies or advocacy groups.
It is reporting that relies on the journalist’s own enterprise and initiative. Investigative reporting means journalists go beyond what they have seen and what has been said to unearth more facts and to provide something new and previously unknown. Most of the time, investigative reporters uncover wrongdoing by individuals and institutions. The good that public officials or private companies do is often publicized; a whole army of public relations people makes sure this is so. It’s the wrong that powerful groups and individuals do that is kept away from the public. This is why investigative reporting often involves digging up what is secret or hidden.”
A video by study.com defines “investigative journalism” as “a type of journalism that uncovers what others don’t want uncovered” which can involve years of research to expose political, corporate or individual corruption.”
In broadcast interviews and written articles appearing since May, self-professed “investigative journalists” Mary Fanning and Alan Jones of “The American Report” have claimed that a super-computer system called “The Hammer” is the means by which former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper conducted surveillance on Donald Trump over a number of years. They cite as their sources “the Whistleblower Tapes,” recorded by Mike Zullo, an investigator appointed by then-Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ in early 2014 to look into the claims of widespread government surveillance made by former CIA and NSA contractor Dennis Montgomery.
In April 2015, Zullo’s recordings, among other materials, were subpoenaed by a federal judge and ultimately leaked to The Phoenix New Times by a plaintiff’s attorney in a civil-contempt proceeding against Arpaio. Fanning and Jones laud Montgomery for his alleged status as a “whistleblower” when, in fact, he has a long record of unsubstantiated claims, soured business relationships, litigation as both a plaintiff and a defendant, and unfavorable mainstream news coverage. Moreover, the claims made on the recordings by Montgomery and his acquaintance, Tim Blixseth, have never been substantiated.
Broadcast hosts Dr. Dave Janda and Sarah Westall have vouched for the “investigative” work of Fanning and Jones but have not responded to requests from Mike Zullo, who was Fanning and Jones’s original source of information for much of their work centering on Montgomery, to make crucial corrections to the record.
While under subpoena and without legal representation, Zullo chose not to divulge the information Montgomery had alleged about the mega-computer system known as “The Hammer” and Montgomery’s role in its alleged operation, he told The Post & Email in a recent interview. Following his testimony in the civil-contempt matter in November 2015, Zullo began to divulge that Montgomery had presented what he said was evidence of massive, warrantless surveillance on the part of the federal government on American citizens and data breaches victimizing some 150,000 Maricopa County residents.
The Post & Email first wrote about “The Hammer” on November 16, 2015 based on one of the recordings made by Zullo, leaked by The New Times days before his testimony and played during court proceedings, depicting Blixseth invoking the term from conversations he had with Montgomery.
In what appears to be “advocacy journalism” rather than “investigative journalism,” Fanning and Jones have voiced Montgomery’s recent allegation that Zullo “illicitly” recorded interviews with Montgomery in late 2013 and early 2014 in the capacity of a former government contractor imparting information to a law-enforcement entity, a point upon which The Post & Email will expound further in Part 2 of this series.
Further, Fanning contended in an August 9 interview with Westall, Zullo “illicitly” recorded Montgomery in his Seattle hospital room without Montgomery’s permission following his stroke, when, in fact, Zullo was at home in Arizona tending to his ailing mother during her final days. Zullo described the allegation against him as “void of any truth and nothing more than an unabashed fabrication made by Fanning.”
In more than seven years in which this writer and Zullo have worked closely together to produce factual and accurate reports on the Obama birth certificate investigation and the Montgomery, or “Seattle investigation,” as it came to be known, no retraction of any of our statements has been necessary. Zullo has proved to be a highly consistent, reliable source whose statements are supported by court transcripts, longstanding reports, and published expert analyses.
In comments appearing beneath the August 9 video interview, Fanning labeled Zullo and this writer “pathetic liars.” In the interest of full disclosure, this writer is not unacquainted with Fanning and Jones. In fact, The Post & Email has referenced Jones’s work at his website, 1776channel, and published both the singular and joint reports Fanning and Jones wrote on the lease of container terminals at Port Canaveral, FL which we deemed well-researched. Since 2015, we engaged in conversations they sought out and provided our best advice when asked. Moreover, it was only a matter of months ago that we received a message from Fanning referring to us as “an old friend.”
We are therefore bewildered that they now appear to be pursuing an agenda against those who possess accurate and time-tested information tied to their decision to adopt an advocacy position on behalf of Dennis Montgomery, who has long sought “positive” media coverage in light of a litany of legal and personal entanglements over two decades stemming from his government work.
The saga involving Montgomery, Mike Zullo and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is a long and complicated one reported here since April 2015. The Post & Email wishes no one any ill will, but the facts of the past cannot be changed.
As Fanning told Westall on August 9, “Timelines matter,” a point The Post & Email will emphasize in Part 2.
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.