July 01, 2011
At Inside Story Matthew Ricketson writes about the issue of anonymous sources. He looks at the Simon Overland fiasco and the Plame affair, quoting from Norman Pearlstein's memoir on the latter:
Pearlstine writes, “The more I learned about the use of confidential sources, the more I came to understand how their misuse was undermining the press’s credibility.” ...Though a credible analysis, I'd still like to see some recognition that granting anonymity is usually about protecting the value of a story that would, without anonymous sources, not be news.
“We need to distinguish between ‘anonymous’ sources, whose names we leave out of stories, and ‘confidential’ stories, whose names we won’t disclose in litigation,” he concludes. “We must also be more honest with our sources, and we must be vigilant to make sure our sources are honest with us. Reporters must explain that they cannot promise more than the law allows, and they shouldn’t make promises that are against the public interest. Journalists aren’t above the law, and we have to stop acting as though we are.”
How do we distinguish between day to day anonymous sources and those to whom we should promise confidentiality? “The source who seeks confidentiality should typically be risking livelihood, life, or reputation, and there should be no other way for the reporter to get the information than from the source… Confidential-source status should never be granted to government officials who are trying to spin a story, especially if they are breaking the law when they do so.”