A few years ago, The New York Times made an admirable move to cut down on its use of anonymous sources. A memo by assistant managing editor Allan Siegal asked newsroom staffers: “Can we squeeze more anonymous sources out of our pages? Can we make our attributions (even the anonymous ones) less murky?”
Since then, when the Times has used anonymous sources, it’s been noticeably more conscientious about explaining why it was doing so. But judging by this passage from her column today, Maureen Dowd didn’t get Siegal’s memo:
For some, Obama didn’t offer enough outrage. “He talks about Reverend Wright violating his core beliefs as if he is detailing why he doesn’t like cheesecake or cream cheese,” said one Hillary Democrat. “He’s more passionate about basketball.”
Sure, columnists operate according to slightly different rules than regular news reporters. But is there any possible reason why granting anonymity to this “Hillary Democrat” to go after Obama is justifiable in any format? The source could be anyone, meaning there’s no way to assess his or her credibility, or to know whether he or she represents a more widespread response.
Would the Times allow an anonymous Obama or Clinton supporter to be quoted saying: “John McCain talks about people who’ve lost their homes to the mortgage crisis as if they ordered mustard on their sandwich and got mayo”? Let’s hope not.
We’ll wrap this post up with some crack reporting, Dowd-style:
For some, Maureen Dowd’s use of a “Hillary Democrat” to attack Obama is shallow and tawdry. “Attacking one candidate by quoting unnamed supporters of their opponent is the cheapest form of journalism imaginable, and it tells readers nothing,” said one Obama Democrat. “If Obama didn’t offer enough outrage for her, why doesn’t she so say in her own words?”