Accuracy in Media

CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang claimed this week that an anonymous White House official called the COVID-19 coronavirus “kung flu” to her face, but she has not identified the individual.

But Jiang allowed at least one of her correspondent colleagues to use the anonymous and unverified “kung flu” remark in questions directed at President Donald Trump and his administration.

“This morning a White House official referred to the #Coronavirus” as the “Kung-Flu” to my face,” Jiang tweeted. Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back.”

Jiang’s colleague, PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, later asked Trump whether it was wrong for a White House official to use “the term kung flu.” The president’s response was that COVID-19 “comes from China.” Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway asked Jiang to identify the official because those comments were “highly offensive.”

Jiang declined to name her source because she is a journalist and told Conway, “I think you understand how these conversations go. I am also a journalist.”

It is hypocritical for Jiang to stand by her anonymous source, which source allegedly offended her for using the phrase “kung flu” to describe COVID-19. It is understandable that Jiang wants to protect her reputation as a journalist and to protect her source, but it is hypocritical for her to then complain that her White House source harbors anti-Asian sentiments.

No other news source verified her account, which also is an ethical issue. Typically, with anonymous sources, other news outlets confirm a source’s claims through their own sources. No other outlet has come forward to substantiate Jiang’s claim.

The media should verify Jiang’s account before going forward with questions about “kung flu” and not rely on it as a true statement until it is verified. But the media ran with the story without verification, which was disappointing and it was a lapse in ethical journalism standards.

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