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August 05, 2005


My new favorite entry in the anonymous source sweepstakes is the one that runs, "'Blah, blah, blah,' said a source, who agreed to speak only on condition on anonymity, citing strict confidentiality requirements."

The part of the quote most often dropped? "I don't consider it a violation of my confidentiality agreement for me to talk," said the source. "Just to get caught."

The thing that frustrates me is how many people STILL buy what they're getting from these anonymous sources. That is, they don't get that the "source" is actually Rove trying to save his own arse. I mean, c'mon. We were played for patsies getting into the war. Let's not get played again as we try and hold someone accountable for lying us into it.

I don't disagree, of course, that too many reporters rely too often on anonymous sources who are mere conduits for Administration propaganda, trial balloons, vendettas, disinformation and internal political jockeying. Many "leaks" are, obviously, carefully calculated aspects of the overall campaign to sway public opinion. This Administration seems to have taken all the techniques of previous Administrations and sculpted them into an astonishingly effective tool of persuasive lies. (Persuasive, at least, to many people.)

Good reporters know anonymous sources can be problematic for all the above-stated reasons, take this into account, seek out confirmatory and contradictory sources - both named and anonymous - and seek to exercise good judgment based on their experience as journalists. Bad reporters don't; and, of course, propaganda tools posing a reporters don't.

However, and I'm going to become a broken record on this, the growing attack on the media's use of anonymous sources risks not finding out about important matters. Whether it's at the local government level or the national level, some of the best reporting relies on anonymous sources. Including anonymous government insiders with their own devious agendas. Without them I couldn't have broken stories as varied as corrupt cable TV franchises, nuclear evacuation plans, backroom uranium mill licensing arrangements, toxic spill coverups, criminal contracting, disinformational cancer studies, and a fair amount of illegal nepotism.

Far more important exposés by journalists far more skilled than I have been broken as a result of anonymous sources who usually have a personal agenda - often, an agenda with nefarious elements.

Using anonymous sources is risky and shouldn't be taken lightly. And, as I said, reporters of high integrity do everything in their power to determine if the information delivered by those sources bears any relationship to what is actually going on, whether it furthers the goals of powerful people, whether it operates as diversion or decoy. Nonetheless, anonymous sources are crucial to the operation of a free press - and that remains true even in this age of cowardly and lying media giants.


You and I agree there. What I'm bemoaning is the literacy of people that can't read through anonymous sources skeptically. Swopa had a thread discrediting Roger Morris the other day, and even when I pointed out specific facts that he had clearly gotten wrong, people said, "But his narrative is really compelling."

Well, okay then. So is Bush's narrative compelling. I guess that's the standard now.

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