The Fandango Continues

The “lateral arabesque” around the new anonymous source rule at The New York Times takes a nifty little tango dip today, thanks once more to the stylish choreography of Elisabeth Bumiller.

Bumiller’s footwork vastly outshines today’s two-step by John F. Harris and Mike Allen of The Washington Post, which has its own new on-the-record rules. Harris and Allen allow their source to go off-the-record so he can speak “candidly.”

Bumiller at least offers better explanations for ignoring the rules. You’ll recall that on Monday she quoted an anonymous Republican insider and then defended herself by telling us that the source did not want to be named “because White House aides get angry when people talk about their closeness to the president.”

Okay, so we now have the Keep-Your-Sources-Happy Loophole on the books.

Bumiller unveils another exception today with this quote in a story describing President Bush’s eagerness to get into the campaign fray. “‘People are viewing him already as a candidate, so why should we muzzle one of our most effective voices in framing the debate?’ said a senior White House official who asked not to be named” — and this is the part Campaign Desk really loves — “because he did not want to be pestered by reporters.”

Yes, you read that right. The Times isn’t telling us the name of Bumiller’s source inside the White House because the last thing he wants is to talk to reporters not named Bumiller.

Thus, two parties are served at once here — the source, who can happily bask in his anonymity, and Bumiller, who isn’t about to ruin a good thing by spilling her dance partner’s name to her competitors.

The only ones not served by this cozy waltz?

That would be the readers.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.