Media & Anonymous Sources: Trusting Journalists To Do the Right Thing Increasingly Problematic

Political News


After the New York Times published Anonymous’s op-ed, CNN’s Chris Cillizza went to bat for the newspaper in a piece titled: “Here’s one big clue to the identity of the anonymous op-ed writer.” (Hat-tip, Eddie Zipper)

Here’s the relevant portion:

In short: If some midlevel bureaucrat in the Trump administration comes to the Times — or has an intermediary reach out to the Times — asking to write a piece like this one without their name attached to it, the answer would be an immediate “no.” Contrary to what Trump says on his Twitter feed, media organizations are very wary of giving anyone and everyone anonymity to make attacks. Reporters push sources to put their names on quotes or at a minimum to narrow the anonymous descriptions to show as much of who these people are (and why they are saying what they are saying) as possible to the reader. Media organizations — the credible ones at least — are hugely averse to letting people take potshots without their names attached to it.

Given all of that, it’s telling that the Times was willing to extend the cloak of anonymity to this author — especially, again, because of the stakes and the target. This is not a decision made lightly. That the decision was made to publish it should tell you that this isn’t some disgruntled mid-to-upper manager buried in the bureaucracy. This is a genuine high-ranking official. A name most people who follow politics — and maybe some who don’t — would recognize. The Times simply wouldn’t do what it did for anything short of a major figure in Trump world.

Indeed, it was telling. All the evidence tells us that contemporary media organizations are anything but “wary” of offering anonymity. Anonymous sourcing has its place, but, at this point, it is virtually the only method used by major media. And now that we see what a “senior official” looks like according to the paper of record, we can imagine what sort of people are being relied on as anonymous sources elsewhere. CNN itself has never explained how it got a string of big stories wrong – always, coincidentally, skewing in the same partisan direction — despite allegedly having them verified by numerous independent sources. There is simply no oversight or consequences for reporters who weaponize bad (or fake) sources. There is only reward via Resistance clicks. Just last month Cillizza was riffing on the Atlantic’s off-the-record story as if it were undisputed fact. Trusting journalists to do the right thing has become increasingly problematic. Some of that is caused by the charged political environment. But much of it is their own doing.

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David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun





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