Some more of my reactions to the revelation that Chuck Philips published a story based on false documents:
The paper deserves praise for quickly admitting its error and running a retraction on the front page. Yes, this was likely done to avoid a lawsuit and/or minimize damages in the event of a lawsuit. But it was the right thing to do.
In a comment, reporter Jim Lakely said that this move engendered good will — but . . .
Yet that good will is largely destroyed by the refusal of Philips or the LA Times to reveal their sources — both the source of the phony FBI reports and the “corroborators” in the poke.
I’ve been a newspaper reporter for 16 years. I’ve used the occasional anonymous source. Sometimes it’s the only way a reporter can get the truth out to the public. But an anonymous source, in my book, forfeits his cover when he lies. It is amazing that the LA Times is still protecting these anonymous sources.
Perhaps Philips and the paper won’t out these frauds because public exposure could put them in physical danger (though that didn’t seem to stop Philips before). More likely, I think, is that Philips has fudged to his editors about exactly how many sources he had. My bet? Philips’ source is singular: The Phraudulent Phat Boy Jimmy Sabatino.
I have no idea whether Philips misled his editors or not, but I agree that if the source knowingly provided phony documents, he has forfeited any right to anonymity — like Bill Burkett in the CBS forged documents scandal. This view is generally accepted by journalists. I did a post about it back during the CBS forged documents scandal, and many journalists weighed in agreeing with that view.
As I said in that post, this view assumes that the journalist can prove the source knew the documents were fraudulent. If the source was duped himself, he deserves to be protected.
In this case, it seems pretty clear that the source is Phat Boy Sabatino and that he knew the documents were forged. Philips should come out and say so, and be clear about what Sabatino said.