Is it wrong for journalists to use anonymous sources? | The Tylt
Is it wrong for journalists to use anonymous sources?
Journalists at mainstream media organizations typically use anonymous sources as a last resort. As a rule, sources of information should be on the record and public unless there's a compelling reason to mask their identity. Usually, the reasons span a huge spectrum–from whistle-blowing heroes to slimy political operatives who are pushing an agenda. Most anonymous sources fall somewhere in the middle.
Anonymous sources make it possible to hold the powerful accountable—especially at the top branches of government. Without anonymous sources, we never would have known about the Watergate scandal. Anonymity allows well-placed sources, often government officials, to let the public know what's going on behind the scenes.
There are many things that can't be told openly because of the potential for backlash. You probably wouldn't want your identity revealed if you're revealing incriminating or embarrassing information about your employer. We live in a world where one bad story can follow you around for life. It makes sense that someone might want to protect their identity.
Using anonymous sources is not something that is either good or bad. Anonymous sources are just one tool, of many, that journalists use to find information. It depends more on how a journalist is using anonymous sources and whether they live up to the ethical standards that most publications hold themselves to. Responsible anonymous sourcing is verified again and again before publishing.
Critics say anonymous sources undermine the credibility of journalists and give them an opportunity to push their own agenda. It's true, anonymous sources can be key to breaking important stories about government and national security. That's not how organizations like the Washington Post and the New York Times are using it.
More often than not, anonymous sources are cited in explosive stories that end up being misleading or only show part of the truth. The media's zeal to find scoops on the Trump administration is leading it to present half-truths and stories without major significance. Molly Hemingway at the Federalist points to a specific instance where the Washington Post misled the public because of their reliance on anonymous sourcing:
Previous Washington Post stories sourced to anonymous “officials” have fallen apart, including Josh Rogin’s January 26 report claiming that “the State Department’s entire senior management team just resigned” as “part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.”
The story went viral before the truth caught up. As per procedure, the Obama administration had, in coordination with the incoming Trump administration, asked for the resignations of all political appointees. While it would have been traditional to let them stay for a few months, the Trump team let them know that their services wouldn’t be necessary. The entire story was wrong.