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Quid Pro Quo

Journalists, if they are going to do their job properly, need sources. Nothing in this world is free. Or at least very very few things are free. These sources have agendas of their own. The journalist is using them and they are using the journalist. Often, the arrangement is mutually beneficial: the journalist gets a story; the source is often using the journalist as a tool to hurt a career rival and/or advance their own. Another thing the source may get is protection. Journalists are reluctant to destroy or damage the career of a valuable source. This means that a source often gets the benefit of the doubt when the brown stuff hits the fan. But sadly, it can go beyond that. Protecting a source can involve turning a blind-eye to wrong doing. Take the shortage of helicopters when the British Army first deployed to Afghanistan. Senior officers would brief journalists off-the-record that there was a shortage and soldiers were dying as a result. But on the record they toed the Government line and declared helicopter provision was adequate. Soldiers kept on dying – and senior officers did not damage their career and lucrative pension prospects by speaking out. The most journalists would do was quote un-named sources highlighting the shortage and then quote the official denial. Perhaps sometimes the un-named source and the senior officer issuing the denial were the same person. A senior, clearly identified, officer going on the record would have made all the difference when it came to getting those desperately needed helicopters to Afghanistan. But very few journalists were willing to risk losing a source who might one day be head of the British military by outing any of the senior officers involved. A cosy relationship. The only people who suffered where the poor squaddies killed or maimed by Taliban booby traps while travelling in convoys when they should have been flying in helicopters.

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