‘Like insatiable vermin eating and rutting their way through a bulging grain elevator, anonymice continue to multiply in the pages of the top dailies,’ writes Slate media critic Jack Shafer.
Shafer points out that this is despite directives from on high that tighten the use of anonymous sources at both the New York Times and the Washington Post. Shafer quotes the ukases: “The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy,” asserts the Times policy. “We must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence. Our obligation is to serve readers, not sources,” reads the Post’s.
Well, I’ve always thought that the occasional need to get haughty about anonymous sources on the part of news executives and the loftier editors is silly. You can’t work without quotes from people who refuse to come out of the closet as sources. I know this from working as a feature writer and gossip columnist (yeah, I know that’s not the same as being a White House correspondent). Somebody can have information essential to a story and not want to risk the livelihood of his family to impart it to the public.
My feeling has always been that if the reporter has a credible record, readers can make up their minds as to whether to trust the report. But that was before Rathergate, Blairgate, Easongate, and other wee episodes indicating that, as a general rule, members of the MSM are not to be trusted.
Shafer deal particularly with the anonymice who infested the president’s recent trip to Europe. It seems that the posh papers are still making extensive use of anonymice:
‘I figured a Nexis dump would trap a few of the contemptible rodents, and I was right,’ Shafer wrote. ‘The worst offender over this interval was the Los Angles Times, followed by the New York Times, the Washington Post (owned by the company that owns Slate), the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe. The good news is that I found no infested clips in USA Today, which is more vigilant than most papers in eradicating anonymice, and none in the Wall Street Journal via its subscription site.
‘As you scan these excerpts, ask yourself: How newsworthy are the anonymous comments? My quick reading? Not very. Then why do newspapers fill themselves with the vapid mouthings of ‘senior administration officials’ every time the president or the secretary of state goes on tour?’
Read Shafer’s examples. I have to be charitable and say that, based on his cullings, relying on anonymice appears to be more a matter of laziness than bias’in these cases, at least.