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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 07/06/2011

New York Post libel suit: Part 2

The unnamed accuser of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing the New York Post for libel, which means it has been a busy day for the Erik Wemple Blog Quantitative Defamation Meter. That device, which puts potentially defamatory statements alongside their sourcing, got a workout in assessing a July 2 New York Post story that called the accuser a prostitute.

Now comes the same treatment for a story alleging that the accuser “turned tricks” while in official custody following the May 14 incident at the Sofitel Hotel.

Story: “Maid ‘laid’ low as DA paid for digs

Byline: Brad Hamilton and Larry Celona

Date: July 3, 2011

INVENTORY OF POTENTIALLY DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS:

(1) “She was turning tricks on the taxpayers’ dime!”

(2) “The Sofitel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a sex attack in his suite wasn’t just a hotel hooker — she continued to work as a prostitute in a Brooklyn hotel where she was stashed by prosecutors, The Post has learned.”

(3) “The so-called victim . . . played host to a parade of paying male visitors in the weeks after Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, a prosecution source said.”

(4) “ ‘While she was under our supervision, there were multiple ‘dates’ and encounters at the hotel on the DA’s dime,’ the source said of her paid hotel room. ‘That’s a great deal for her. She doesn’t have to cover her expenses.’”

(5) “The woman has a regular fleet of gentlemen callers who range from wealthy clients she met at the Sofitel to counterfeit-merchandise hawkers and livery-cab drivers, said sources close to the defense investigation.”

(6) “It’s unclear how many encounters took place, the source said.”

(7) “The DA suspects that the $100,000 she deposited into her accounts over the last few years included proceeds from sex-for-money exploits, said another prosecution source.”

NUMBER OF ON-THE-RECORD SOURCES:

0

Explanation: The central allegation here — that she worked as a prostitute while being housed by the DA — appears to stem from a single ”prosecution source.” Other anonymous sources get some play in the story, including “sources close to the defense investigation,” a “law-enforcement source,” and a “senior prosecutor.” What’s not clear is, well, many things: Whether these people are all the same; which people are responsible for what information; whether they may have a stake in providing misinformation to the New York Post.

The favorite moment of the Erik Wemple Quantitative Defamation Meter came when the paper itself appeared to lose track of its fleet of anonymous sources. Here’s the passage:

The woman has a regular fleet of gentlemen callers who range from wealthy clients she met at the Sofitel to counterfeit-merchandise hawkers and livery-cab drivers, said sources close to the defense investigation.
Some of her clients also gave her pricey jewelry, the source said.

What source? The first graph in this excerpted passage cites “sources”; then, in the next graph, it references simply “the source.” Who would that be?

ERIK WEMPLE BLOG QUANTITATIVE DEFAMATION METER READING

7/0

The New York Post stories that underwent Defamation Meter scrutiny today have a common tic:

“The Sofitel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a sex attack in his suite wasn’t just a hotel hooker — she continued to work as a prostitute in a Brooklyn hotel where she was stashed by prosecutors, The Post has learned.”

And:

“The Sofitel housekeeper who claims the former IMF boss sexually assaulted her in his room was doing double duty as a prostitute, collecting cash on the side from male guests, The Post has learned.”

Emphasis added to highlight sourcing depravity. Whenever a news outlet makes a serious allegation and says, “we have learned” or something along those lines, the story may well be flimsy. Those lame words are a clever way of dodging the tough work of stating the depth of your sourcing. “We have learned” is shorthand for ”we have no on-the-record sources.”

As an editor, I once reluctantly assented to such phrasing, and my colleagues pummeled me for it.

By  |  02:30 PM ET, 07/06/2011

 
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