Here’s a thing. There may be a huge corpus of writing dedicated to this particular phenomenon, and I am simply ignorant of it. I’m like that at times.
How many times have you consumed a news report about some statement released by a ‘group with links to Al-Qaeda’, and the report also says something along the lines of ‘The authenticity of the statement could not be verified’?
Perhaps I’m being thicker than usual here, but if the authenticity of something can’t be verified, why would you report on it in the first place?
There are obviously some things which can be reported on without need for verification, such as Roy Keane’s potential suitors now that he has left Man United. If we learn of unconfirmed reports coming through that Keane has ‘issued a come-and-get-me plea’ to Motherwell, we might not be particularly bothered if these unconfirmed reports are never confirmed. Sports news doesn’t matter that much, and rumours are generally understood to be all part of the fun anyway.
However, when it comes to matters of claiming responsibility for acts of terror, threats against entire nations, and insane bouts of blood-curdling laughter, authenticity is a good deal more important.
Call me what you will: an ignorant utopian, a sad dupe, a useful idiot, but it is my conviction that the authenticity of a statement ought to be verified at the first opportunity. So, if Today FM (or whoever) reports that a certain pronouncement of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri or whoever cannot be authenticated, it should not leave the matter there, because this is tantamount to reporting that the individual in question might have said something, but they’re not really sure. Once it receives authentication, or receives definitive word that the statement can not or will not be authenticated, it ought to report that too.
Furthermore, if a broadcaster or media outlet chooses to report on such a statement whose authenticity has not been verified, it ought to give the name of the agency it would normally depend on for providing the authentication.
Anything else and I’ll be inclined to think that the whole thing is a load of shite.