The No Attribution Zone
Hat tip. Link back. Trackback. These are internet terms, as well as courtesies. Another way to put it might be: attribution. Sourcing. Or how about “credit where due”? I’m a blogger. Many of you are bloggers too, and you know the same thing I do. When you repost something from another site, you attribute it. This is true of almost anything you do online. On Tumblr, reblogging automatically links to the original source. On Twitter, when you retweet someone, or get an idea from them, you include their username. It’s polite and, moreover, it’s fair. Did I mention it’s also super-easy? Well not, apparently, for Bill O’Reilly.
Over the weekend, RedState broke what turned into a major national news story. RedState diarist ColdWarrior posted an article and video that showed Senator Jon Kyl stating that in a private meeting, President Obama admitted to holding border security “hostage” in order to pursue his own immigration reform plans. ColdWarrior shot that video himself. He was at that town hall meeting, he filmed that portion, he uploaded it to youtube, and he posted it at RedState. I’m sure you’ve all heard the story and seen the video by now. What you probably didn’t see, unless you were watching CNN, was the source of that video.
The cable news networks were all over this story. As is generally the case, I was watching Fox News yesterday. Megyn Kelly ran the story. Shepard Smith showed the video. Bill O’Reilly did an entire segment on it, complete with guest panelists. Each time, the video was played. Each time, it was wrapped in graphics that gave it every appearance of being original Fox News footage. None of the three mentioned RedState. They didn’t even mention YouTube, or call it “home video” as has sometimes been the case in the past. No, instead they ran the video without any attribution whatsoever, giving every appearance that it was original Fox News footage. Crime of the century? No. Discourteous? You betcha. And in Bill O’Reilly’s case, it’s not the first time. Not by a longshot.
Last year, Tommy Christopher shot footage of Helen Thomas where she (surprise!) made some controversial comments and used the phrase “so-called terrorists.” The video spread like wildfire. Luckily, Tommy had the foresight to put his blog’s logo on the video as a watermark. But that didn’t stop Bill O’Reilly. Not only did he fail to attribute the video to anyone, not even broadly to “the internet,” they actual had The O’Reilly Factor‘s logo cover up Christopher’s watermark! Keep in mind, Christopher was interviewing Helen Thomas as part of his beat covering the White House and as a member of the press corps. I wonder how Fox would like it if their reporters’ interviews were lifted and used without attribution? As you can see in the article I linked from last year, a few of my own videos have received the same treatment at Fox News.
Sometimes it is hard to find the source of a video online, although that can hardly be said to be the case here since most of the websites linking to the video, including the Drudge Report, led you right to ColdWarrior. But even assuming internet fail and they couldn’t figure out the source, it seems to me to be ethical, or at least more honest, to point out that it’s not original Fox footage.
Is it really very hard to hand out a bit of credit? Oh, I’m sure The Factor, a show that frequently criticizes blogs and the blogosphere in general, would rather not link to us icky bloggers. Would rather not mention us at all. But honestly, Bill. If the video is good enough for you, then so should be the videographer. So should be the website that broke the story. We were good enough for CNN to mention (thanks Erick!), why not Fox News? One wonders, if Fox News were here at the time of Kennedy’s assassination, would it be known as the O’Reilly Film, rather than Zapruder?
This is the new media age. There are flip videos by the hundreds at every major political event. We see the fruits of this on the cable news networks every day. Networks that get to feed the beast that is the 24 hours news cycle, entertain their viewers, and lets not forget, earn plenty of money while doing so. If the networks don’t yet have a policy for, at the very bare minimum, mentioning they got it from somewhere or someone else, they need to get one. It doesn’t take much effort to do. It just takes a bit of honesty and integrity.