What's with "sources speaking under condition of anonymity?"

How can we have all these things reported in papers/news that are “sources speaking under condition of anonymity”? I mean, if you can’t speak, then DON’T! I mean, how do you confirm something from an anonymous source? How do we know the “source” is telling the truth?

What ever happened to proof? Should papers, news, etc., be able to print anything from these so called “sources”. If the source is willing to publicly state what’s happening, then fine. But if they don’t have someone who will come forward and claim responsibility for a claim/accusation, then should it be printed/reported?

What’s to stop a person from starting a proverbial witchhunt “under condition of anonymity?”


Nothing at all. This is why if I’m reading a story and hear about an anonymous source, I skip the rest and read something else.

Don’t tell anyone I asked you this, but what’s the problem with anonymity?

Rather, make that, if I hear about an anonymous source.

Aaargh! I meant if I SEE an anonymous source.

Did I get it right this time?

Man, I need to get more sleep.

Here is aNews Hour with Jim Lehrerstory on anonymous sources or leaks.

There are lots of reasons for leaks. You want to float a “trial balloon” to see how an idea will be received. You want to discredit an idea that you oppose that isn’t yet out in the open. You think something fishy, or even illegal is going on but you don’t dare speak openly.

Without anonymity (Deep Throat) , would Watergate have happened?

Puh-lease. If it turns out the factory you work at not only produces widgets[sup]TM[/sup], but kills babies and sells girls into slavery in Turkmenistan, and your boss says you shouldn’t tell anyone, you shouldn’t? :rolleyes: Leaks are sometimes intentional trial balloons, but when they’re not, anonymity PROTECTS YOUR SOURCE. That’s important as a journalist, particularly if you’re investigating an ongoing story.
If a source goes public about something big, he’s likely to feel backlash at work. That’s got a chilling effect both on liars and honest whistleblowers. Yes, anonymity could couch people with an ax to grind, but it also protects people who tell the truth.

You do something called research. Any time someone gives you a tip or some info, you try to confirm it before proceeding. How gullible do you think reporters are?

See above. Aside from tabloids, newspapers don’t just print every damn thing they hear. Yes, it’d be great if everyone stood by their comments publicly, but sometimes it’s impossible. Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate reporting used almost only anonymous sources, but they had a rule that they wouldn’t run something unless they could get it confirmed by at least two sources. That’s another way you deal with that situation if you’re a reporter. (There are also multiple types of anonymity or non-printable comments, and there’s more leeway in the situation than you’re saying.)

Anonymity has never been necessary to start a witchhunt. Anyway, as I already said, you don’t just run everything you hear if you want to keep your publication in business.

I’m not arguing about saying that a person shouldn’t come forward to state they know about something like a “factory that kills babies and sells girls into slavery in Turkmenistan.” I’m saying that until it is PROVED to be truth and is confirmed, maybe it shouldn’t be reported. We report so much hearsay now-a-days that I wonder how much is truth. And if the research is done and someone can prove that thus-and-so happened, then someone who did the research should give their name because they become a source. Maybe it’s not a direct witness to the fact, but someone who is considered an expert on it, or some such?

This also ties in, in my mind, with some of the “insinuation” reporting we’re getting. The US president, for example, “insinuates” relationships between factions/people all the time. And the sheep follow along believing as fact.

I also agree that “There are also multiple types of anonymity or non-printable comments, and there’s more leeway in the situation than you’re saying.” That’s why I asked for input on the thread. I wanted the “wise ones to enlighten me”! grin I was frustrated at seeing yet another article on Yahoo that’s sole purpose seemed to be to rile people to anger.

Maybe I misunderstood the OP. I assumed pyffe was referring to tabloids and gossip columns.

Actually, no. I was referring to yet another story that was in our newspaper. The one that actually “broke the camel’s back” so to speak was the one about the FBI bugging the Philly mayor’s office.


That’s why I don’t take them as gospels.

pyffe: What did you miss above about the verification? You seem to be operating on the assumption that a story is bogus if the source is anonymous. Also, just because the source is anonymous to you does not automatically make the source anonymous to the reporter.

Nope. Just saw the very first run of a news story. That story, like 10 of its brothers run the same day, had “sources speaking under condition of anonymity” and I was wondering how it worked. Seems to me there hardly any sources now a days that will come forward.

Considering that Nixon’s White House was a veritable ocean of law breaking activitities before the Watergate breakin, it’s pretty much a moot point. The difference is that the Watergate burglers were caught and two reporters were dogged and kept to the trail. As has been mentioned before, Woodward and Bernstein never went with a story that only used one source and they they never went with a story that directly used Deep Throat as a source. Deep Throat was more of a guide, telling them if they were on the right track in their investigation.

As far as using anoymous sources these days, hell Matt Drudge doesn’t do any checking to see if a story has veen the merest smeblence of truth in it. No, instead he just throws it up on his website and proceeds to ruin peoples lives.

Allow me to point out that in the more reputable newspapers (most of them) even ‘anonymous sources’ aren’t trusted 100 percent.

Usually if you see something with such an ‘off the record’ or ‘background’ source every fact you see (or report) will be confirmed by at least one other source, either on or off the record.

That does make it more difficult for one person to start a witch hunt.

And God help the person who lies off the record to a reporter for political purposes.

And in some papers that were considered “reputable” we have cases like Jayson Blair. sigh

And stranger yet is that in the articles about Blair’s dealings, they state things like “One current reporter, who declined to be named” and “A distinguished former Times journalist, who also asked not to be identified”…