By Casey Bukro
Anonymous sources — used by media and by government officials — came up again in a New York Daily News piece by James Warren.
Warren used a press briefing by Josh Earnest, the new White House press secretary, to illustrate how Earnest and a reporter dueled, trading accusations of withholding sources. Back and forth they went, parry and thrust.
Warren also comments on the value of White House news briefings, and whether they actually produce news.
“It has been a fairly informative ritual at times evolved (perhaps partly as a result of the cameras) into an hour or so of premeditated evasions by the spokesman; a bit too much prosecutorial posturing by some of the reporters; and, ultimately, rhetorical stand-offs in which there’s little advancement in public understanding of important matters.
Actually, Warren noted, if a White House reporter’s annual salary depended on legitimate stories produced by the briefings, he’d “be eligible for unemployment compensation.”
But the bulk of Warren’s story deals with the give-and-take between Earnest and a reporter, who was asking for more on-the-record sources from the White House. That would depend, said Earnest, on a case-by-case evaluation and ground rules “that will serve your interests and the White House interest the best.”
Warren called the “spitball fight” hypocritical.
“The Washington media, like media at other levels of journalism, is often involved in a mutual self-protection racket with the people we cover,” he wrote. “It can be at the White House, City Hall in Chicago or a county board in Texas. The dynamic is roughly similar. Too many reporters are manipulated with scarcely a qualm.”
About.Com Media describes the dangers of using anonymous news sources and offers five questions to ask yourself before trusting anonymous sources.
The site points out that inexperienced reporters might believe that using anonymous sources “make news stories sound more important,” but the practice presents “many ethical and legal dangers.”
Taking a Devil’s Advocate approach, New York News & Politics explored whether the Watergate investigation leading to President Nixon’s resignation could have been possible without W. Mark Felt, later identified as the “Deep Throat” confidential informant.
The story touches on the working habits of Seymour Hersh and Jayson Blair, with comments from Bob Woodward.
“Journalism exists to get us closer to all sorts of truth, and anonymous sources are essential to the endeavor,” concludes the author, Kurt Andersen. “Even now, they provide more social benefit than they (exact) in moral costs.”