Thursday, April 28, 2011

WaPo Uses Anonymous WH Briefer to Get Crucial Info: Personnel Shuffle will Provide "Strongest Possible Team" (!!!)

Just how entrenched is the culture of using anonymous sources willy-nilly at the Washington Post?

Check out the lead story in today's print edition, about the shuffle of Panetta, Petraeus and other top officials. From paragraphs 4 and 5:
It is “the strongest possible team to exercise our strategies and policies,” said an official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, adding: “I stress the word ‘team.’”

Obama, the official said, “has laid out [the changes] in a way that we believe will provide for a seamless transition in each of these positions.”
I mean, really. Talk about super-secret information that can only be provided to readers via anonymity!

And this wasn't by some newby writer, either; the article is by Karen DeYoung, a top Post veteran who carries an Associate Editor title. And it wasn't some story buried deep inside; it was the lead story (which is to say, screened by top editors).

Did many other top outlets print this dreck? A search for "strongest possible team" shows a few outlets that did: AFP, The Hill - twice, UPI and the New York Post. That's it. All of the top US papers other than the Washington Post had the dignity not to print it.

Andy Alexander, the Post's past Ombudsman, summed up the situation in 2009 like this: "The Post's sourcing rules are fine. The problem is compliance."

The Post's policies say that "we must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence." The policies also say granting anonymity "should not be done casually or automatically" and "merely asking should not be sufficient to become anonymous in our stories." They say that if sources won't go on the record, "the reporter should consider seeking the information elsewhere."

What's it going to take for the Post to change its ways? This isn't about a few bad apples; this is about a mindset that goes to the top, where editors let a story like this through. Will that ever change?


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