Brian Whitaker writes: Do news organisations have a duty to publish stories from anonymous sources when there is reason to believe they are untrue? Apparently some people think so.
Yesterday, following scientific tests, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that inhabitants of Khan Sheikoun, in the Syrian province of Idlib, had been “exposed to Sarin, a chemical weapon”, during an attack last April. Reports at the time said at least 74 died and hundreds were injured.
The news that Sarin had definitely been involved caused a buzz on Twitter from people refusing to believe it. Many pointed instead to an article in a German newspaper last weekend which quoted an unnamed “senior adviser to the American intelligence community” as saying no chemical attack had taken place.
The article, by veteran American journalist Seymour Hersh, suggested that Syrian forces using a conventional explosive bomb had accidentally hit a store of “fertilisers, disinfectants and other goods” causing “effects similar to those of sarin”.
Hersh’s version contradicted evidence from a range of sources and, in the light of yesterday’s announcement from the OPCW, is clearly untrue. As far as some people were concerned, though, it said what they wanted to hear and, even after the OPCW reported its findings, they were still complaining that mainstream media had failed to take Hersh’s ridiculous story seriously. [Continue reading…]