Here's a good journalism #protip: If the main source for your bombshell NSA article is a guy who thinks that President Obama is gay and that President Bush has his poop classified, you may not actually have the scoop you think you do.
As the Observer and the Guardian learned the hard way this weekend, with an Observer front-page article, published on the website it shares with the Guardian, claiming that European governments were planning on handing over data on their citizens to the NSA. Its source for the article? One Wayne Madsen, whose name should be familiar to anyone who's spent time in the fun parts of the web, as Michael Moynihan details on the Daily Beast:
Recovered from my own perfunctory Google search, here are a few of Wayne Madsen’s greatest scoops: Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik was an Israeli agent who murdered 69 people on behalf of his handlers in Tel Aviv. The attacks of 9/11 were masterminded in Israel and Washington, D.C., as a “false flag” operation. The 2000 terrorist attack on the USS Cole was also a “false flag” operation, executed by—you guessed it!—the Israelis.
When not mumbling about the perfidious Jews, Madsen is enlightening readers on President Obama’s gay past (he wore “clear nail polish” and was a habitué of Chicago bathhouses), speculating that a “White House S&M ring order[ed] special videos from Abu Ghraib,” and reporting that President Bush’s “feces and urine are classified top secret” and “captured” from special toilets and “flown back from Europe.” (This last story is available on the Holocaust-denial website Rense.com, incidentally.)
The Observer took down the story, which was apparently sloppily based on declassified documents that you can find at the NSA's website, the minute people pointed out it was based on an... unreliable source. And not even on direct interviews with the unreliable source, but on republished quotes from an interview on a website called "PrivacySurgeon.org."
But the damage, such as it is, had already been done: The print edition of the Observer carried the story on its front page, and even in the comments on Moynihan's piece the cover-up accusations are going strong: "It's now apparent that this attack was generated over the weekend by a network of ultra-right fanatics who include Naval War College and other self-appointed media censors adept at using social media for political hit jobs," one writes. Another accuses Moynihan himself of shoddy journalism: "I am confused, you are saying that the Clintons were NOT involved in smuggling cocaine out of the Mena Arkansas airport? If you are, you might want to check your facts on that one."