the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

June 12, 2005

Anonymous Sources


Keith raised this in comments, but I thought it deserved its own thread.

Are anonymous sources a bad thing? Well, obviously in Jack Kelly’s case, yes. Same thing for the Plame leak.

But what about Watergate? In the On the Media interview that Keith references Mr. McPaper, Al Neuharth, has this to say:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: A lot of people say in the Watergate investigation, not to keep harping on that, came from the mid- and lower-levels of government where they could suffer grievously if they were proved to be a source.

AL NEUHARTH: I think if a lower level source in the government were to have an exclusive of some wrongdoing and then were fired for it, there’d probably be many others who would hire that person for his or her honesty and integrity, if he or she were identified.

That strikes me as hand waving. If you will, I’m curious what his source is for that belief. Note that he doesn’t say that he would be happy to hire someone who’d leaked information damaging to his or her employer.

Reading the account of how Mark Felt kept his identity a secret leads me to believe that he was afraid of more than just losing his job. He was afraid of being prosecuted for breaching national security.

The acid test for the fourth estate is whether they are effective at speaking truth to power. What distinguishes Watergate from the Plame leak is that the abuse of power is what’s being fascilitated.

What I’m saying is that USA Today has the luxury of not using anonymous sources because, well… because they’re McPaper. They put out a bland mix of news and infotainment, and avoid the kind of dissent that you’ll see from the Post or Times.

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