Defending Jon Keller

Journalists everywhere can learn a couple valuable lessons from Jon Keller's rough week.

First: if you have a conflict of interest--like, say, a child working for a campaign you're covering--disclose it early and emphatically, preferrably in your primary medium. And don't be flip about it.

Second: attribute whenever possible, so no one accuses you of trying to pass someone else's work off as your own.

Having said that, I agree with Dan Kennedy that the flap over lack of attribution in The Bluest State seems overblown. Obviously, the book should have had footnotes. But Dan's right: if you read it, you know that Keller isn't trying to pretend that every quote comes from an interview he did.

What Dan misses--and what the Herald's Jessica Heslam missed, too--is that there is a quote-classification system at work in Keller's book, albeit an informal one. The quotes Keller got himself are flagged pretty clearly. They're usually accompanied by "says" or another present-tense verb. Sometimes Keller adds you-are-there color; sometimes he inserts himself into the action (" 'Our favorite time is being with the kids,' Romney confides to me"). In contrast, the quotes taken from other sources get "said" or a past-tense equivalent. Sometimes, Keller explicitly indicates that someone else got the quote ("...Rivers told an interviewer the summer his house was shot up"). Usually he doesn't.

True, the system could be clearer. But it's a real reach to accuse Keller of bad faith here.

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