“That Turns Out to be Pretty Close to the Truth”

MSNBC viewers have suffered no shortage of discussion of Todd Purdum’s anonymous source-heavy Vanity Fair article exploring “the pheromonal reality” of the “[Sarah] Palin phenomenon.”

Yesterday, Clint highlighted (see post below) a comment from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd about how reporters use the anonymous ID “senior advisor” rather loosely because, well, “we’ve got to make the story look good.” One day earlier, while interviewing Purdum about the piece, Todd didn’t ask Purdum whether he, too, cavalierly dubs unnamed sources “senior advisors,” but Todd did offer Purdum a chance to “defend” himself against those who might “attack” his piece “for not having a lot of direct quotes from people on the record.” Purdum’s “defense:”

One of the things I’ve learned as a magazine writer is in some ways, the most useful information you get is the kind of information that people are not willing to attach their names to. I know this is a subject of great criticism in journalism today. I try to think of myself as not writing for the news cycle today, but writing something that 10 or 15 years from now, when people read it, they’ll say, “You know what, that turns out to be pretty close to the truth.” And if I can achieve that, I can sleep at night even if the people are anonymous.

(There’s something familiar about this when history proves me right thing…)

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.