Anonymous sources are a slippery bunch. In some cases, it can take days, months, even years to judge the validity of their claims.


Other times, all it takes is a few seconds.


So it was today, in an article in Newsday — one of the trillion or so recent news stories weighing in on the alleged gang rape of a woman by lacrosse players at Duke University.


Like most of the stories in this rapidly expanding genre, the Newsday article added few fresh details about the uproar surrounding the alleged crime. The story, however, did break new ground in the field of creative anonymous sourcing.


To wit: In recent days, several student groups have marched on the Duke campus and noted their concern about the university’s handling of the situation. Nevertheless, Newsday managed to uncover one courageous student who was ready to fight back against the mob mentality and proclaim her solidarity with the lacrosse team. Sort of.


“A member of a women’s sports team at the university said she knew several of the players and could not imagine them engaging in violent behavior against women,” reported Newsday.


“They are the nicest guys and I’m going to stand by them because they have not been charged,” said the athlete, who asked that her name be withheld. [Emphasis ours.]


That’s not exactly what we’d call “stand[ing] by them.”


To the ever-growing list of reasons why a reporter would allow a source to go unnamed, Newsday appears to have given us a new addition: the need to spread statements of unconditional support, on condition of anonymity.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.