“If You Use My Name, They’ll Make Fun of Me”

The New York Times grants sources anonymity because they don't want to be mocked for "the sumptuousness of their lives."

Our most recent award for Best Explanation for Why A Source Requested — And Was Granted — Anonymity in a News Story (a.k.a. Anonymice Award) went to the Los Angeles Times’ Ralph Vartabedian back in October. Vartabedian’s source (an insurance claims adjuster) asked to go unnamed because he feared decapitation; he would, in his own words, be “handed his head” if identified.

Now death is pretty darn scary to the average American, but in the rarified world of jet-setting New Yorkers, there is something even more terrifying: ridicule.

Which brings us to our latest contender for the Anonymice Award, found this week in the New York Times’ Sunday Styles Section in a story about how some wealthy Manhattan families — burdened with two weeks of holiday vacation time from their children’s private schools — are opting to visit two destinations, often one snowy and one sunny, to avoid the unbearable monotony of fourteen days at a single luxury resort.

While the Times’ Lisa Birnbach was able to find one parent to speak on the record for her all-important anecdotal lead, it seems the rest of the fabulously rich Manhattan moms and dads Birnbach interviewed did not wish to be identified. And, as we all know from the Times’ “Principles for Granting Anonymity,” “The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy. When we use such sources, we accept an obligation … to convey what we can learn of their motivation.”

And so, Birnbach reports after quoting one New York mom: “This mother would speak only if her name did not appear in the newspaper, a condition also demanded by most of the others interviewed for this article. It is not that the vacation plans of privileged Manhattanites are sensitive matters of national security. But the families did not want to expose themselves to envy, or even ridicule, because of the sumptuousness of their lives.” (Emphasis ours.)

In other words, you think keeping up with the Joneses is hard? Try being the Joneses, for whom the Green Monster is at least as scary as the Grim Reaper.

And why does this remind us of that recent article in Slate by Daniel Gross, about underpaid Times reporters and the “nose-pressed-to-the-glass quality” of some of their coverage?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.