That $7,000 cabby

In News Reports on November 6, 2012 at 1:40 am

That $7,000 cabby
How do you catch out a person on a lie? Or maybe he wasn’t lying, just exaggerating, stretching the truth, so to speak. I get asked this question many times. I say that it boils down to rigorous reporting. Ask the question, make sure the person understood the question and then ask more questions to verify the answer. Don’t repeat the same question, silly! He’s not deaf, you know…

Then ask for evidence, and ask for other people who can confirm or back up the answer. In other words, you simply cannot rely on what journalists call a “one source’’ story. The heart of journalism is verification.

So it is with some sadness that I had to read about the cabby back-tracking on his $7,000 answer. He hit that mark only once; it wasn’t a typical monthly salary. I was even more distressed to read the reporter’s response to this back-tracking. In essence, she said that this was what he said, that her question was clear, she had a colleague to back this up plus video evidence.

But this isn’t enough, is it? A journalist doesn’t swallow everything an interviewer says, especially if what he said is incredible. If that’s the case, a journalist is no better than a tape recorder. The interviewee isn’t under oath either, like in a court of law, so he can really say anything he likes and doesn’t have to be too careful about the truth.

The thing is, if you are a journalist, you can’t call a person a liar to his face, not even if you have proof. After all, he’s doing you the favour by answering your questions. In fact, he doesn’t even have to speak to you. So you are left with your arsenal of questions. It’s which question to fire, how many you decide to shoot, from what angle, which direction, until you are sure the target is right. So it is with the cabby…

Q: Wow! $7,000 a month is a lot. You have a log book or not? Can I see?
Q: Isn’t it very tiring? What does your wife say about driving six days a week like this? You must be earning more than your wife?
Q: Any of your cabby friends make that kind of money? Do they know? You didn’t tell a single one? You are talking to a reporter now you know. I am going to write this…
Q. $7,000 a month. All the time? Are there some times you make less? Bad month or something?

I suppose we can speculate about why the cabby chose to give a different story now. That he was being ridiculed, faced pressure from his colleagues and so forth. May he DID make $7,000 a month and is now saying something different to take the heat off himself. Except that he quit what he said was a good job. Maybe he really wanted to say that $7,000 a month is do-able if you worked hard and smart. That when he said his taxi was a “money machine’’, he didn’t mean he was minting money but that his livelihood was dependent on it. Maybe he got carried away speaking to a reporter. Some people do, you know. They make things out to be bigger, better than they really are. And it’s no fault of the interviewee…he isn’t the expert.
The journalist is.

  1. Dear Bertha,

    I have just one pressing question;Would you be able to detail out the difference,in your past work experience, between a reporter and a journalist? regards Kumar Sundram

    On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 12:40 PM, Bertha Harian

    • Hmmm not sure what you are asking. A reporter is a sub-set of this big category called journalists, which
      includes editors, sub-editors, photographers, artists, page designers and so forth

  2. Spot on Bertha! I would also wonder if the journalist and editor were being mischievous if they published this without verification.

  3. […] Bertha Harian : That $7,000 cabby – Musings From the Lion City: Why The […]

  4. Reblogged this on wiredweirdrawncrotchet and commented:
    Journalism 101.

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