Saturday, February 2, 2008

"You can't put my name on this."

In the newspaper business, there is often confusion/discussion/argument over how to deal with anonymous sources. For the last couple of years now, you'll see the New York Times, Washington Post, and others writing along the lines of "A high level campaign source, who wished not to be named as he was not authorized to be discussing the campaign..."

Ugh, that's bullshit. First of all, it doesn't tell me anything, really. The guy isn't supposed to be talking, so of course he doesn't want to be named. I don't need to be told that. Second of all, my cynicism runs deep: the boss (in the campaign, in the above hypothetical) probably told him to speak sans attribution.

Well, then, comes a piece about U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who, well, happens to be running for president. Toward the end of the story, appears this graph:

McCain may have a bit of a vindictive streak. "John has an enemies list longer than Nixon's," says a former Pentagon official who did not want to get on it. "And, unlike Nixon, McCain really does try to get you." After the Boeing scandal, three Air Force officials who quit all found that one of McCain's top aides had quietly spread word around the defense community that anyone hiring them would risk the senator's displeasure. And he still has an impetuosity that is nervous-making to old foreign-policy hands. One of them, a former high official in several Republican administrations who occasionally advises McCain (and wishes to continue to) worries to NEWSWEEK about McCain's "quirky" judgment and his unwillingness to change his mind once it's made up. (Emphasis mine.)
Wow! Neither of these turns of phrase are perfect -- and I doubt that perfect utterance exists. But they smack of honesty. (Cynic in me: Duh. That's why they're so bad.) At any rate, at least Newsweek is making an effort. I didn't see a real byline, so I can't gush for anyone in particular.

I dunno, but those two little snipped jumped off the page at me. What do you think?

1 comment:

cliff said...

I had the exact reaction you did. For some reason those attributions jumped out at me.

The reason? At least the reporter gave a little more than the stock anonymous, and went into the why for once. It doesn't hurt the copy, and judging by our reaction, may be a plus for credibility.