[Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 30 seconds]
An important addition to current publishing standards would be to watermark the output, the source of the information, and the author. That would give the consumer a way of determining who´s the origin of the information and evaluate it.
Apart from enriching the owners and paying the journalists a salary accountability and giving user the power to assess whether they trust the writer, is really the journalistic reason for mastheads like the Washington Post, The New York Times, Dagens Nyheter and Der Spiegel and other traditional media brands.
When charlatans like Janet Cooke, Jason Blair and Claas Relotius are found out they fire the responsible editors to protect the integrity of their brand names.
But the mastheads fight for their survival, held under the arms by benevolent billionaires or bewildered governments trying to finance Public service. Some are edging into niched information channels for the elite like the Economist, The New Yorker and Dagens Nyheter.
Jill Abramson summarizes the last decade of the Mastheads in her book:
“The newspaper industry had shed $1.3 billion worth of editors’ and reporters’ jobs in the past decade, some 60 percent of its workforce since 2000. Some of the newspapers that won the prizes had gone out of business—more than 300 altogether—or were shadows of what they’d been.”
The Sulzberger family has owned The New York Times since 1896 when Adolph Ochs bought it. He was a Tennessee newspaper baron and the current editor Sulzberger Jr.’s great-grandfather. But with $200 million in annual costs for its news gathering it could only remain in the hands of the family by borrowing $250 million from Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim.
Despite cost-cutting and staff reductions the Graham family couldn’t save the Washington Post but had to sell to IT-billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
# An apprentice at John Deere
In a very similar fashion Peter Hjörne, until recently owner and editor of one of Scandinavia’s biggest publishing houses, Stampen, confirmed the saying “First generation makes it. 2nd generation maintains it, 3rd generation blows it” when he crashed his media empire into near-bankruptcy a couple of years ago.
According to Forbes less than one third of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership. Another 50% don’t survive the transition from second to third generation.
Despite those well-known facts Hjörne was chosen in the late 80: ies to lead the company founded by his grandfather Harry and administered by his father Lars. Amon the mastheads was the flagship Göteborgs-Posten, the sole remaining daily in Sweden’s second biggest city.
The paper, and unfortunately Hjörnes influence, was saved by the taxpayers doling out millions, some $ 70 to current estimates, in missing wages and outside interests investing in the ill-handled conglomerate. At the time of writing the company was once more facing bankruptcy and was sold for a pittance to a Norwegian company.
But Hjörne did not only drive the paper into receivership while enriching himself. More importantly he squandered the trust of the paper and its role in the political life of Gothenburg which is in free fall and has disintegrated into small, partisan, single-issue parties.
The main industries, like AB Volvo, have been taken over by Chinese owners, infrastructure investments are
failing because of tabloid journalism that has created a Brexit-like situation in a city of 400 000 people.
When shouldering the responsibility of first CEO and then publisher of Göteborgs-Posten Hjörnes only experience of working life was apprentice at the tractor maker John Deere in the US.
He decided he needed a mentor and choose someone close to the family, Pehr G Gyllenhammar. Gyllenhammar was married to Hjörnes aunt, but also CEO of Volvo Sweden’s biggest company with headquarters in Gothenburg and by far the city’s biggest employer.
Peter Hjörne also spoilt the legacy of Göteborgs-Postens journalism. During his reign he personally stopped investigations into friends in the Gothenburg bourgeoisie, corporate scams by local “unicorns”, and quashed reports by his own staff of Israeli settlers throwing stones at Palestinian schoolchildren. Not to mention that his butler squandered $5 m on Tanzbar beim Schlump in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn and corporate jets.
Nuff said on what poor publishers can do for public trust in the media.
Hjörne is by no means alone. Media moguls have often tried to stay within the fold of the powers that be.
Jill Abramson again:
“Beyond the political climate, the traditional news media itself had played a role in the public’s eroding trust. Self-inflicted scandals had damaged their credibility, including those involving Janet Cooke at the Post and Jayson Blair at the Times, the run-up to the Iraq War, and, soon, controversies over coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails, hacked messages from the computers of Democratic Party officials, as well as the failure to recognize Trump’s electability. Most Americans now got their news on their smartphones, on social media, from a jumble of sources, such as family members they trusted far more, or from alt-right websites, increasingly polarized cable TV news shows, Russian bots, and branded content from corporations.”
Snowden before Snowden
Edward Snowdens increasing realization that what was flowing before him on NSA: s screens needed to be shown to those whose mandate the agency was working on – the people. He naturally tried to contact the most established mastheads like The New York Times and WP but got no response since he demanded to communicate securely, and they did not master that skill.
He instead turned to the lawyer and columnist Glenn Greenwald, an important advocate for human and civil rights in the American debate. But once more he failed to reach someone with both clout and ability to communicate. Eventually he managed to get to Greenwald through intermediaries who knew how to encrypt.
Greenwalds friend the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras bridged the gap and Snowdens material could, through another masthead, The Guardian of London, in the summer of 2013 inform the world and the American people of the US government breeches of law and trust with the people.
And New York Times lost one of the biggest stories so far of the 21:st century.
The New York Times already had parts of the story but refused to publish it for more than a year out of respect for wishes from the very leaders who kept their voters in the dark.
In 2004, almost ten years prior to Snowden, The New York Times reporters James Risen, and Eric Lichtblau had in vain tried get the editor Bill Keller to publish what a source had told them:
“The source told me that the NSA had been wiretapping Americans without search warrants, without court approval. The NSA was also collecting the phone and email records of millions of Americans. The operation had been authorized by the president. The Bush administration was engaged in a massive domestic spying program that was probably illegal and unconstitutional, and only a handful of carefully selected people in the government knew about it.”
But after talking to the head of the NSA and the White House Keller didn’t print for over a year. And only after meetings with the White House, Keller and Arthur Sulzberger. In contrast, his father when acting as The Times’s publisher, published the Pentagon Papers in the face of threats from the Nixon White House.
Keller later said that Bush told Sulzberger he would have “blood on your hands” if he published the NSA story.
The story about Stellarwind was finally posted on the New York Times website on December 16, 2005.
In a 2013 interview with then-Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, Bill Keller expanded on why he waited so long: “three years after 9/11, we, as a country, were still under the influence of that trauma, and we, as a newspaper, were not immune. It was not a kind of patriotic rapture. It was an acute sense that the world was a dangerous place.”
When Bill Keller, Jill Abramson’s predecessor as editor of the Times, did what was then common procedure in major American media and talked to the White house and then suppressed important stories he lost a reporter who had broken many other important stories for the paper’s audience.
James Risen did not part with the one of the most established mastheads comfortably. The loss was as much his. He subsequently joined a very small online investigative outlet, The Intercept, started 2014 by Glenn Greenwald with money from Pierre Omidyar, another tech tycoon. 
Risen wasn´t alone to be upset at the paper’s submissiveness. Internal fights raged at the Times over the coverage of the Bush administrations argument for going to war in Iraq – the so-called weapons of mass destruction, WMD.
A totally fabricated claim, refuted by among other Hans Blix of the International Atomic Energy Commission, IAEA but formed the argument the US administration needed for the war.
The current cost in lives of the 2003 Iraq invasion is today approaching half a million according to Iraq Body Count. How the scam developed from an asylum-seeking serial liar to Colin Powell’s infamous speech at the UN Security Council took several years to surface and is well documented in the book “The CURVEBALL Affair” by John Prados.
[Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 59 seconds]
Despite intensive reporting on issues like “Fake News” and the ongoing failure of their business model, the traditional press continues to fail at its main mission – delivering the truth in a manner so that it can be trusted by transparency and fact-checking. That we should trust what the journalists believe is not good enough. We must be able to prove them beyond reasonable doubt. Otherwise they will eventually hit back at the victims who’s plight we are trying to expose.
A very poignant example of this surfaced one Saturday in March when the main Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter published a story that filled the national debate that weekend and prompted comments by several ministers in the government.
That the war in Syria is one of the cruelest in a long time and, according to the UN, the Yazidi people have been subject to genocide is in no doubt. This concerns how Dagens Nyheters reporting stands up in an important and difficult story.
“Read Dagens Nyheter today”, said Swedish PM Stefan Löfven. “It’s the most disgusting story I think I ever read. So far from what could possibly be called humane actions that it’s inconceivable”, said Löfven. 
The interview he was referring to was made by one of the papers most distinguished reporters, Niklas Orrenius. With the help of an interpreter he interviewed a Yazidi woman, a refugee in Sweden that he calls Jamila. She told him of serial rape and murder committed by ISIS soldiers during her captivity in Syria. A story there is no reason to disbelief, atrocities against the Yazidi people have reported by many others during ISIS rule in Syria. But one thing stood out in Jamilas story.
“What I can’t forget is the mother and the baby, she says repeatedly” according to Orrenius article. The mother in question was a fellow prisoner with a 9-month old baby that was often screaming for lack of breast milk from the undernourished mother.
The mother blamed the guards and one day they suddenly took the baby away from her.
“They were gone for two hours. Then they came back with a big plate of rice and meat and said: Here is your son, we have cooked him for you. You said you were hungry.”
Orrenius’ account of Jamila howling desperately at the memory is hardly surprising: “They had butchered her son! I will never forget it. Who can accept something like that? Who could endure that?”
“Not one day has passed that I have not thought about the child and the mother.” The mother went insane. “She took the meat from the plate and pressed against her chest. She just screamed.”
“Was that really meat from her child or just something the ISIS men claimed?”, Orrenius asks her.
“It was her child. The head was on the plate, they had not done anything to it. They had just cooked the other parts of the child.”
Jamila’s story indeed contains among the worst imaginable atrocities, but it’s not the first-time similar stores are told.
• On 2 March 2015, the British tabloid The Sun claimed ISIS militants had tricked a woman into eating her captured son’s remains. The sole source for the story was the Sun itself who had talked to a second-hand source: “Yasir Abdulla, 36, from Yorkshire said that the woman had appealed to IS to release her son when they tricked her. Abdulla told The Sun the woman was offered a seat at IS headquarters, then given a drink along with cooked meat and rice. At first, she thought they were being generous, but when she finished the meal they revealed the cooked meat was the flesh of her son, whom they had murdered earlier.”
• On 27; th of June 2017 The Sun again ran a similar story. The headline was: “JIHADI SICKOS – ISIS butchers cooked the baby son of Yazidi sex slave and fed him to his unsuspecting mother, Iraqi MP reveals”.
It was picked up by other less reputable media like The Washington Times and the New York Post. It had its origin in an interview Egyptian TV channel Extra News with Vian Dakhil, Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament. None of the papers have spoken to Ms. Dakhil. The cases differ from Jamilas in that Dakhil is not a firsthand witness. Also, other details differ, the woman first ate her son before being told what it was. And there was no head.
The fact checking site Snopes which has examined and exposed urban legends and hoaxes since 1994 evaluated the story from The Sun in 2015 and concluded: PROBABLY FALSE with the arguments:
- The origin is a single second-hand source who does not provide any evidence and have not been a witness.
- Secondly no names, dates, or any supplemental detail were provided for the claim. The woman was described as brave in confronting her son’s known captors, yet despite being armed with the knowledge that ISIS (or “IS”) had abducted her son, she accepted and ate prepared food in a scenario that defies logic. Thirdly, the story mirrors many legends of unwitting cannibalism that far predate the Islamic State.
For fact-checking purposes Orrenius refers to his interpreter, Delkhwaz Haciy, lawyer and chairman of Yazda Sweden, an organization that works with surviving Yazidis in Sweden. “[Jamilas] story is detailed and coherent. There is no reason whatsoever for me to distrust her as a witness. It’s obvious to me that the what happened to the child and mother has left deep scars in her,”  Haciy says to Orrenius after the five-and-a-half-hour-long interview. “
Orrenius also refers to a University of Oregon Master’s Thesis “Investigating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence as a Weapon of War and a Tool of Genocide against Indigenous Yazidi Women and Girls by ISIS in Iraq” by Suha Hazeem Hassen. It contains numerous accounts of atrocities against Yazidi women and children by ISIS but there is no mention of tricking people into cannibalism.
From a fact checking perspective there are some points in Dagens Nyheters story that sticks out:
* The editor in chief, Peter Wolodarski, when questioned in the media critique radio program “Medierna”, admitted to not having known about the previous publications of similar stories by tabloids in Britain and the US before publishing Orrenius article.
• Jamila says she has told the story before, to a Swedish physician when seeking help after being traumatized by her experiences. According to Jamila the doctor started crying and stopped her from continuing the story. “The doctor said she couldn’t stand hearing more” Jamila told Orrenius.
From a human perspective the doctor’s reaction is credible, but a professional physician at a Swedish local care unit rejecting a patient with obvious psychological trauma is a conspicuous claim that could have been easily checked by Orrenius. If it checked out it had merited further reporting.
• Jamila is a pseudonym, her name and where she lives is withheld in respect for her safety. She and her husband claim they have been threatened by Pro-ISIS individuals. Hence, she cannot be contacted by anyone else for clarification or further details which of course is problematic.
Also, this could, and should have been followed up by Dagens Nyheter. If correct also that merits further reporting.
• It’s not clear how Dagens Nyheter has found Jamila. If it´s the interpreter, the Yazidi advocate Delkhwaz Haciy, that introduced Orrenius to her it is of course problematic to let Haciy be the one evaluating Jamilas credibility.
• The only version of the story where there is a firsthand witness of eating humans is Jamilas, all other versions are second hand accounts.
• According to the article´s chronological account of Jamilas interview she talks only of meat and rice until questioned. Only then the head is added. That lessens the credibility. It is unlikely that someone would talk of rice, meat, later reflections on her own son, and the dramatic reaction from the child’s mother without mentioning that there also was a head on the plate.   According to witness psychology research significant details steal attention to lesser ones.,
• There are no accounts, that I have found, of cannibalism in the extensive reporting by well reputed organizations like Human Rights Watch and others on atrocities committed against the Yazidi people.
• Cannibalism is a well-known urban legend. Snopes mentions: “Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (in which a queen’s two sons are slaughtered by a Roman general who has waged war against her people, then baked into a pie which she unknowingly consumes) to an episode of the satirical animated series South Park titled “Scott Tenorman Must Die” (in which the show’s antagonist, Eric Cartman, feeds the killed parents of an enemy to him in a bowl of chili)”. Even in the New Testament, Salome, the step daughter of Herod Antipas, demanded and received the head of John the Baptist on a plate.
In “Medierna the weekend after the publication the editor in chief, Peter Wolodarski states that Dagens Nyheter had no reasons to disbelieve the story: “In this case the most important thing, I think, was that we sat with the witness ourselves. We sat a long time with her. For such a witness, you must remember, it is a very big step to talk to a journalist.”
Orrenius says in the interview in Medierna that this might be the most important story he ever came across in 25 years of reporting.
All in all, it can be concluded that Dagens Nyheter published a story that not cannot be fact checked by others and has multiple signs of being an urban legend.
Neither did Dagens Nyheter consider the possibility that parts of Jamilas story are the result of well-known problems in witness psychology. People are notoriously bad witnesses. For non-nefarious reasons details are added, time changes, hearsay becomes part of what one seems to remember etc.
To interrogate a fraught interview subject is of course a lot to ask, but to hold publishing until more questions could have been asked is not. The story also contains several less controversial, but nonetheless astonishing, facts that could have been easily checked.
Journalists are not lawyers or police investigators. They have other responsibilities to the interviewees and the audience, and therefore have other methods, which are very important in uncovering wrongdoing.
One is relying on people who for different reasons must, or want to, stay anonymous. That is an important journalistic method but needs to be used with the utmost care since it relies one hundred percent on the trust of the audience in the journalist. If used, a rule of thumb is that a minimum of two of each other independent sources confirm the same thing.
Preferably information from anonymous sources should be used to get confirmation elsewhere. That, and checking basic things like times, places, copies of travel documents, phone calls etc., are extremely important to keep the trust of the public. None of that is displayed in Dagens Nyheters story.
But the story fueled the intense debate in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe on what to do with Swedish women and men who had joined ISIS and now are headed back. Not least their 80 or so children that according to the Swedish Security police are accompanying them.
Apart from several ministers who commented the story was trending on Swedish Twitter that weekend. These are
a few tweets by people following Orrenius, another well-known Swedish journalist and a conservative politician.
“They are orcs (Tolkien, Orcs are a race of creatures used as soldiers and henchmen) Orc should be exterminated otherwise they will continue killing. Pure evil.”
By not allowing any ISI [back] to Sweden. Tear the citizenship. Support local courts [in Syria].”
“I’m against the death penalty, but pigs like these “cooks” have passed all limits. I don’t think I’ll manage to read the [Orrenius] articles, unfortunately.”
“Johan Zätah @JohanZatah Mar 15
Replying to @hanifbali
“30 decapitated heads from Yazidi sex slaves found in trashcans:
- Barely mentioned in the paper.
- 30 Muslims shot in a mosque by a bunch of with fanatics>
- World news and disgust.
Anybody else upset by this damned culture/relativism?
All victims are victims.”
Robert Fisk pinpoints the problem in an article for The Independent following another purported atrocity against Yazidis:
“Thus, we journos have to investigate each bestiality which comes our way, usually in the Middle East, with semantic scalpels. For if it turns out that those 19 Yazidi girls were never burned to death – and we must sincerely hope they were not – then the future “deniers” of Isis crimes will perpetuate the “innocence” of this vicious cult for another generation.”
However well meant, an article like this always hits back at the affected if it can’t be supported. When challenged by Medierna Orrenius and his editor in chief Wolodarski was unfortunately never asked the central question: “If this was such an unusually important story, why wasn’t it factchecked better?”
Publishing testimony from war and conflicts raises the bar for fact checking. If Dagens Nyheter can’t support the story from the IS-victim Jamilas they should continue reporting to confirm it or retract the story.
Update: A Swedish version of this story was published 16:th of April 2019 in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet.
“Lars Hjörne var gift med en syster till Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, Anne och hon är mor till Peter Hjörne samt författaren Marika Cobbold-Hjörne” http://gamlagoteborg.se/2014/05/08/hjorne/ ↑
Rosens article in The intercept ↑
“ Bill Keller (2003–2011) Jill Abramson (2011–2014)
Dean Baquet (2014–) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_New_York_Times_employees#Editor_in_Chief ↑
https://theintercept.com/2018/01/03/my-life-as-a-new-york-times-reporter-in-the-shadow-of-the-war-on-terror/h 2018/01/03 accessed 20190403 ↑
All the news that’s unfit to print
“ Documented civilian deaths from violence 183,249 – 205,785 Total violent deaths including combatants 288,000 ↑
Jamila upplevde ofattbara övergrepp som slav hos IS – möter IS-anhängare i Sverige – DN.SE.pdf 20190323 DOwnloaded 20190323.pdf ↑
“Tolken Delkhwaz Haciy, som mött många överlevande från IS folkmord, tröstar Jamila och frågar om hon vill ta en paus. Men Jamila skakar på huvudet. I fem och en halv timme i sträck orkar hon vittna om sina upplevelser. Foto: Lotta Härdelin” ↑
https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/113855/youve-just-eaten-your-son/ accessed 20190410 ↑
https://se.linkedin.com/in/delkhwaz-haciy-4a466376 accessed 20190410 ↑
Medierna LOGG PW Det var valdigt jobbig lasning. Man blir oerhoert drabbad av det som star dar. Samtidigt som kanslan av att det har maste berattas. Det maste komma fram
VI har ju et tsnavar bara att titta p[ genomslaget, viktigt att vi tar asnvar.
I det har fallet var det viktigast att vi satt med vittnet sjalva. Ett strort steg att orka prata med en journalist. Vi hade inga skal att betvivla tillforlitligetehn I uppgifterna.” ↑
Loftus et al Dritsas and Hamilton 1977 ↑
M: I agree it is overly broad and needs more support. Maybe cite specific material from Loftus, or enumerate a couple of your own experiences. ↑
Loftus et al “Eyewitness Testimony’” ↑
https://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/1279149?programid=2795 accessed 20190410 ↑
Loftus et al. “Eywitness testimony” ↑
Tolkien’s fantasy writings, Orcs are a race of creatures who are used as soldiers and henchmen by both the greater and lesser villains of The Silmarillion. ↑