December 4, 2008

Howie wrote a piece based on a Congress Daily article called:

Who Should Take Over House Ways And Means? Let's Make Sure We Poll All GOP Interests And Make Sure It's Not Some Dirty Damn Liberal

The media makes sure that liberals are scrutinized for any position in government for the sake of the country, but Conservatives get a free pass, but that article was noteworthy for another reason. The dreaded over use of anonymous sources.

We see anonymous sources being used in articles all the time, and news reporting probably wouldn't be possible without them. I use sources all the time when I break some stories and you trust me when I do it, but when an article uses nine anonymous---gossipy-lobbyist---type sources to do a hit job on Pete Stark in the Congress Daily, then I think someone from that publication should have to explain themselves.

Matt Stoller:

And there we go. 'Journalist' Peter Cohn puts together a wholly conventional ideological hit job on Democrat Pete Stark using nine anonymous quotes or statements attributed to 'sources'.  Not one single person will go on the record to discuss why the seniority system shouldn't work in the case of Stark, not one policy idea is considered in the article vis-a-vis Stark or anyone else's record, and the reader learns nothing about the tax writing committee from it other than nine anonymous sources in Congress think something.  Apparently, the amorphous business community will 'go nuclear', whatever that means, Stark is gaffe-prone, but neither the public, policy, or the shift leftward in Congress as evidenced by Waxman's recent committee victory in the Energy and Commerce tussle are even on 

Please email Peter Cohn and ask him why he went completely overboard on the use of anonymous sources.

Clark Hoyt, the NY Times public editor wrote an article about this very problem:

Culling the Anonymous Sources

Mark Groubert, who writes reviews for C&L responded to his piece about anonymous sources that they posted on line.

I propose a simple answer. Make it a rule: One anonymous source per article.

One per article. (Maybe two, if you twist my arm. But that’s it.)

The writer can bellyache all he wants to the editor, but the editor can say, “That’s the rule,” and tell the writer to write a follow-up piece if he wants to use another anonymous source. You’ll see how fast they disappear.

If it’s something super important, the writer and editor will get it out in another article. I am so tired of reading information from three, four, five and even more anonymous sources in one article.

For me, it is the volume of anonymous sources that diminishes the veracity of an article. I can accept one, but when I see multiples, I quickly turn the page.

Mark Groubert

That's a simple solution, but the bottom line is that there needs to be tighter controls or anybody can do or say anything off the record for a host of reasons which have nothing to do with the story that is being written and that's not journalism. As Matt says:

And this is the point. One of the most insidious aspects of DC is how the conventional wisdom that dominates policy-making is shaped by an interplay between reporters and lobbyists, with ideas and voters entirely cut out. Based on this article, I have no idea if Stark would write good tax law or manage the committee well, I have no idea who the people are that are criticizing him and so the criticisms are entirely devoid of context, and Stark - Air Force vet, successful businessman, and experienced legislator - is completely powerless to respond.

This unaccountable and unelected system, where industry lobbyists and their incestuous journalistic partners directly contradict the power vested by the public in our elected officials, is why the public hates the Beltway and its trappings of power.

Amen, Brother Matt.

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