Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Live by the anonymous source ....

I was on Allan Nathan's radio show last week with Jason Leopold, and got the chance to make a point about the dangers of hanging a story entirely on anonymous sources. Leopold swears that his sources told him Karl Rove had been indicted. But because they're just "sources" -- nameless, faceless, no titles, no authority -- Leopold is left standing there with egg on his face, and his "sources" are probably just laughing into their beers.

Ever since Watergate, D.C. journalists have become over-reliant on anonymous sources -- and the sources themselves have become hooked on their own anonymity. It's crazy: The State Department will have a "background" briefing with some assistant deputy undersecretary type. Every reporter in the room knows the official who's doing the briefing, but it's an agreement that the official cannot be identified. So you get this story where everything is "according to U.S. officials."

This is nuts. I understand there are situations where officials can't talk on the record, but this anonymous sourcing has gotten completely out of hand. The entire "Plamegate" investigation began with "sources" telling stuff to Bob Novak, and it ended like it began, with "sources" saying that Rove was going to be put on trial.

But on the radio last week -- and continuing this week -- Leopold doesn't want to admit he got burned. It's just like Dan Rather and the forged TANG documents: Rather just can't bring himself to admit that his sources bamboozled him.

Investigative reporters go snooping into everything in the world, but it never occurs to them to question their own practices.