Anonymice Break Out, Go On Rampage

For a brief while last week, it seemed as if New York Times reporters were at long last taking to heart the manifesto issued by the paper’s editors in an attempt to cut back on the use of anonymous sources, or at least to explain to readers why a source must remain anonymous when said source is quoted.

But anonymice (term courtesy of Jack Shafer of Slate) are no easier to stamp out than other pests such as cockroaches, rats and fleas. Thus, once the weekend came (and perhaps Times editors let down their guard) the little rodents were suddenly crawling all over the news pages of the paper.

A sample, along with the accompanying imaginative reasons reporters gave for protecting their own source’s priceless anonymity:

From the Saturday Times, courtesy of Jodi Wilgoren and Richard W. Stevenson: “… one prominent advisor who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of appearing critical of the president.”

Also Saturday, from Elisabeth Bumiller and David Halbfinger: “One veteran Republican strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of offending the White House …”

From Sunday’s paper, a twofer by Adam Nagourney: “… one Republican associate of Mr. Bush who said he did not want to be identified …” and “An administration official, speaking anonymously because he also did not want to be identified as critical of Mr. Bush’s debate performance …”

And today, fresh from Richard W. Stevenson and Randal C. Archibold: “… said one aide to Mr. Cheney who asked not to be identitifed because the campaign discourages discussions about strategy.”

Does all of that make things any clearer for you, reader? Or perhaps build in your bosom a bond of trust with either the reporter or the source?

We didn’t think so.

Should nuclear holocaust ever come, once the dust settles, it is said that cockroaches, rats and fleas will be among the first to scurry from the rubble. Perhaps it is so. But our money is on anonymice as another hardy species likely to survive anything — attended, of course, by attentive reporters.

Steve Lovelady

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Steve Lovelady was editor of CJR Daily.