N. Korean \”Nuke Test\” — Find the Right Sources Before Rattling Sabers

Washington Post.com top story Oct. 9, 2006
Did today’s lead online head from washintongpost.com jump the gun?

Today, in the numerous U.S. news stories speculating about North Korea’s as-yet-unconfirmed nuclear test, I’ve noticed a glaring omission: The acronym CTBTO (sometimes CTBO).

That stands for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization — the body that runs the International Monitoring System (IMS), which is how scientists around the world keep a continuous lookout for nuclear blasts.

I learned about the CTBTO and IMS back in 2004, during a two-minute Google expedition. At the time there were widespread reports of a mysterious mushroom cloud over North Korea. (Remember that, anyone?) After hearing that report, my first question was whether scientists had indeed confirmed whether they’d observed the signature seismic, radiological, and other evidence that accompanies and identifies any nuclear blast. All I could find in the news were vague, threatened, and threatening statements, mostly from government officials — with the exception of exemplary 2004 coverage from the New Scientist.

Given the deserved black eye many news organizations had taken over lax investigation of Bush administration claims of WMDs in Iraq years earlier, this apparently widespread reliance on government officialdom, rather than appropriate scientific bodies, bugged me enough that I wrote about it in Contentious: North Korean Blast, WMD Echoes, and Missed News Opportunities.

At the time I was amazed that I discovered which sources could give a definitive confirmation on a nuclear blast report in less than two minutes at Google, yet no mainstream news coverage I saw indicated any attempt to get comment from CTBTO (or from appropriate government contacts specifically about what they’d heard from CTBTO).

Looking at today’s headlines, I’m dismayed that this particular bit of journalistic history appears to be repeating itself. So far…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE at the Poynter Institute’s weblog E-Media Tidbits

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