Score to Date: Anonymous 4, Editors 0

So much for firm resolve. As Campaign Desk reported Friday, The New York Times and The Washington Post are talking tough and carrying a tiny twig when it comes to new rules cracking down on the use of anonymous sources in news stories.

We’ll let you click back to Friday’s article to get the drift of the bosses’ thinking on off-the-record comments. (You may want to read it a couple of times to make sure you understand. We had to.)

So have those new newsroom policies changed anything? Well, yes. Now, instead of getting zingy quotes from anonymous sources, we get zingy quotes from anonymous sources followed immediately by lame explanations for why the sources must remain anonymous.

Here’s how the Post’s Jonathan Weisman and Mike Allen pulled off that lateral arabesque in an article Saturday:

Several former administration officials said the debacle over [Anthony F.] Raimondo illustrated broader weaknesses in Bush’s White House as he gears up his reelection campaign. Some Republicans said the situation crystallized their concerns about his weakened political position. These Republicans refused to speak on the record because they said that if they did, they could not be candid about the problems without infuriating Bush and his most powerful aides.

In today’s Times, reporter Elisabeth Bumiller offers her own rationale for breaking the rules: “‘There’s a little joking around, but he gets right to it,’ said a Republican supporter who meets with Mr. Bush but did not want to be named because White House aides get angry when people talk about their closeness to the president.”

“[Sources] need to protect their jobs,” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. told Campaign Desk’s Brian Montopoli on Friday, in explaining the allowable exceptions to the new rule.

But doesn’t anyone on the reporting end worry that this veil encourages hyperbole instead of truth, vitriol versus insightful analysis? And if that’s the case, why even go there?

Wasn’t the original idea that anonymous quotes carry little credence, serving as they do the interests of sources and reporters, at the expense of readers?

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.