Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the New York Times, wrote a rather exhaustive column yesterday about the use of anonymous sources and how the Times has tried to curb this practice.
As Hoyt tells us…
Because the painful Jayson Blair scandal involved articles containing unnamed sources who apparently did not exist, The Times tightened its standards in 2004. Bill Keller, the executive editor, and Allan Siegal, then the standards editor, wrote a policy declaring, “We resist granting sources anonymity except as a last resort to obtain information that we believe to be newsworthy and reliable.”Noble words, I must say. However, I cannot comprehend how Hoyt could cite the Jayson Blair scandal and ignore the real “elephant in the room” when it comes to the Times’ abuse of unnamed sources, and the individuals most blameworthy here would be reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon.
As Wikipedia reminds us, Miller’s stenography on behalf of Bushco turned out to be crucial in turning public opinion towards supporting Dubya’s Not-So-Excellent Iraq Adventure, with Miller jailed for refusing to reveal her source, which turned out to be “Scooter” Libby (and by the way, if you want to concoct an interesting little “what if” game, try imagining what would have happened if Libby had not agreed to release Miller from the confidentiality agreement; would he have been convicted or not? Once the Libby-Miller connection was made, the case started to come together, but I’m not sure that would have happened without it).
And as far as Gordon is concerned, Glenn Greenwald has posted a few times about Gordon’s ongoing use of anonymous sources also leading to the Iraq war, as well as Gordon’s practice to “fan the flames” against Iran (noted here...“American officials say,” "According to officials," all uncorroborated statements). Why Gordon is still allowed to do this is something I cannot fathom either.
In terms of the direct impact on people’s lives and well being, the worst thing Jayson Blair ever did was concoct “stories” the could have jeopardized the investigation into the D.C. sniper shootings, for which John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were convicted in a capital murder case in 2003. As bad as that was, though, Miller and Gordon ended up helping to lead us into an utterly pointless and unjust war in Iraq (the only “stories” I could find by Blair about Iraq were written after the war had already started).
And I would say to Clark Hoyt that there is more than a shade of difference between these two circumstances; failing to acknowledge that is patently ridiculous.