Thursday, August 16, 2007

Anonymous Sources

Hanson has a piece at National Review on the use of anonymous sources. I think he doesn't take the theme far enough.
Anonymity on rare occasions may have a place in protecting whistleblowers or honest journalistic sources fearful of retaliation. But lately it is being misused in a variety of different contexts to destroy people and institutions — and as a way for authors of all sorts to avoid responsibility for what they write.
I agree with this. But, anonymous sources, though allowable, should only be used rarely.
What can we learn from all this — while savoring the irony of authors and journalists fudging on their own ethical standards as they race to uncover the supposed ethical lapses of their government officials?

If an “I accuse” author like Scott Thomas Beauchamp or Michael Scheuer avoids using his own name, or reporters like Dan Rather or Michael Isikoff won’t name a source for a potentially history-changing story, there is often a good suspicion why: They apparently don’t look forward to questions about why — and how exactly — they wrote what they wrote.

Instead, anonymity gives them free rein as judge and jury, exempt from cross-examination. This “trust me” practice goes against the very grain of the American tradition of allowing the aggrieved the right to face his accusers.

Sometimes the result of this increasing abuse is more lasting damage to the authors than any temporary discomfort of fending off cross-examination. Beauchamp is now a disgraced storyteller. The New Republic has lost whatever credibility it had regained after its embarrassment several years ago of printing false stories by Stephen Glass, the lying reporter who likewise used anonymous sources.

Scheuer sounds goofier each time he gives an interview — and the credibility of his once anonymously written Imperial Hubris shakier and shakier. Isikoff has never quite recovered his journalistic reputation. We all know what happened to Dan Rather.

And all this nemesis is as it should be. Anonymity is a vicious but seductive Siren that lures its heedless listeners to shipwreck on the shoals.
I think, and from my reading of various military and security sources it appears accurate, that many anonymous sources in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Lebanon) are fairly often the voice of propaganda for those who appose US efforts. How many anonymous police informants in Iraq have we heard were never vetted by the AssPress or other similar organizations? Even more suspect is the fact that such organizations will use "journalists" and then accept their sources with out independent vetting. This has provided no small number of false reports that the world takes as fact and they ignore the reality of the situation when it is later found to be false. This works very well for those fighting with 4GW methods.

Hanson does point to multiple "journalistic" examples of the improper use of anonymous sources. Sadly, I don't expect that we'll see the use of that tool decreasing any time soon.

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