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Circular reporting

According to the Wikipedia:

In source criticism, circular reporting or false confirmation is a situation where a piece of information appears to come from multiple independent sources, but in fact is coming from only one source. In most cases, the problem happens mistakenly through sloppy intelligence gathering practices, but in a few cases, the situation was believed to have been intentionally caused by the original source.

Chart showing circular reporting or divergent and convergent reporting

An attorney, who comments here occasionally, remarked that the recent article in Mother Jones that linked to me was an example of “circular reporting.”

Here’s a circle: I wrote an article titled, “Mother Jones: The Obama Conspiracy-o-rama.” It, of course, references Mother Jones; the article is “Chart: Almost Every Obama Conspiracy Theory Ever” that has a link to my own page, “The Debunker’s Guide to Obama Conspiracy Theories.” One of the items in “The Debunker’s Guide” is a link to an article of mine titled “Obama’s legal fees” and one of the sources for that article was Mother Jones.1

Circular reporting has been rampant in the birther community from the beginning. I used to watch for a new article on Leo Donofrio’s blog and then see how long it would take for the same article, attributed or not, to appear on other blogs; The Betrayal was one that always picked up Leo’s stuff quickly. It was only a few hours until half a dozen copies of the same article appeared on various birther blogs, often appearing as original content. One sees cut-and-paste Mario Apuzzo often in birther arguments today.

What I try to do here, whenever I can, is to use original sources or at least established newspaper sources. Loren Collins in his recent book Bullspotting had many footnotes to sources for the information used in the book. Loren has one footnote pointing to this blog, to the story of the email that I received from Ivan Zatkovich, the image expert that WND hired to look at the long-form birth certificate. Loren properly cited me on that story because I received and published the original source document. He also properly didn’t quote me on any number of other items that I covered because I wasn’t a primary source.

It’s not unusual for a commenter here to post a link to one of the fine anti-birther blogs covering breaking news. I follow the link and read the story. Most of the time, though, I don’t use that source (even though I have found anti-birther blogs to be highly reliable) for my own article because that would be circular reporting and not the best source. Local news coverage is my gold standard. Also when I can, I try to include multiple sources that add value to the article, rather than just repackage somebody else’s information.

For an amateur like me the Wikipedia sourcing guidelines have proven quite helpful.

My recent article, “Indiana attorney Greg Black ‘gobsmacked’” is a minor example where a letter to the editor appeared as an image on Orly’s blog and I searched out the newspaper web site where it was actually published.

One of the motivations for how this blog works is a reaction to bad things I see elsewhere. If I go to a site where things are hard to find, it makes me want to index, tag, and reference articles here to make them easy to find. If I go to a site where citations aren’t hyperlinked to the original sources, it makes me want to hyperlink more. And if I visit a site where assertions are made without sources, it makes me want to provide more sources.


1Actually, virtually all of the legal fees article came from original sources.

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One Response to Circular reporting

  1. avatar
    bgansel9 November 4, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    I use those same rules myself. Thanks, I truly appreciate having a good source to find the original content.

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