I've spoken to several readers who have wanted The Star to report on video recordings of Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC, in which she is heard saying, "violence is a tactic and it's to be used when it's an appropriate tactic."
As always, I passed along that interest to editors in the newsroom. Today, I see that columnist Mike Hendricks wrote about it. (I'll note here something I tell readers all the time: I am not an assigning editor. I pass along hundreds of story ideas a month, but I can't promise anyone that an individual item will be covered.)
Hendricks' take is essentially the same as mine: All any of us outside those behind the website posting the videos knows is what they allege the recordings represent. However, this site and its proprietor have a proven history of publishing videos purposely edited deceptively to make it appear as though someone was saying something that was actually the polar opposite of the point of the story. I will not give these people the search-engine hits by naming them, but the liberal Media Matters (and let's be clear -- that's an extremely liberal organization that focuses almost solely on conservatives, though their facts here are absolutely accurate) has documented carefully that this source not only first posted other video with dishonest editing, but also subsequently lied about how it was presented originally.
So my takeaway from this is three-pronged:
1. Ancel may have advocated violence in some situations.
2. All anyone has at this point is video from a group that has been caught making Michael Moore-style edits in the past. As Hendricks points out, Ancel's clothing changes midway through the video, strongly suggesting we have something cobbled together from multiple sessions. I think everyone -- left and right alike -- should be extremely cautious about any claims this website makes. That's what the parable about the boy who cried wolf is all about.
3. As the Hendricks column notes, UMKC is investigating. The Star should follow up on that investigation.
The bigger question is how professional journalists should report on any recordings such as this. That's a technique fraught with all sorts of ethical peril. The first two bits of advice in the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics say:
Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
Well, the second part of that first item is clearly out the window for the website posting this new video. They've intentionally lied and misrepresented past videos, and are prone to in-fighting among their fellow travelers in the world of "conservative" activism (a term that I know a lot of people on the right would bristle at these people using). That's a very good reason for grown-ups to take their new claims with a gain of salt.
The second item in the SPJ list is also key. We haven't heard Ancel's side here yet -- but anyone who's ever been in a classroom understands fully the dialectic technique of saying something provocative as a starting point, then coming back around later to use it as part of a larger point. Or as in the case of the first video this website presented dishonestly, to show why that initial statement was wrong.
Yes, it's an interesting story. But it's based on a video of unknown provenance, distributed by a source that's been caught red-handed in the past. Proceed with caution.