The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    William K. Wolfrum's picture

    What's in a name?

    Over the course of the day, I've come across three stories from major media outlets that shared two things in common. First, all three stories were trivial. Second, all three of these trivial stories were based on comments from anonymous sources.

    First up, Derek Thompson at the Atlantic:

    GOP Aide: Republicans Not 'Intellectually Honest' on Taxes

    "But a senior GOP aid I spoke with, who asked that his name be withheld to speak freely, said the Republicans' no-tax-increase stance wasn't "intellectually honest" in the real world."

    Then, Jake Tapper at ABC News:

    Top Democrats: Huntsman Would Be Toughest to Beat in 2012; Won't Win GOP Nomination

    Top Democrats in and outside the White House, speaking on background so they could be more candid, suggest that former US Ambassador to China and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would be the GOP candidate President Obama would least like to face in 2012 -- but they think he can't win the nomination.

    Finally, and by far the worst of the three, is David Corn at Mother Jones:

    It's 1:00 AM, Do You Know Where Newt Is?

    The story is well known: he left wife No. 1 for wife No. 2. Then, while he was Speaker of the House and leading the impeachment crusade against President Bill Clinton, he trysted with congressional aide Callista Bisek, whom he later married, after leaving wife No. 2 (Marianne). None of this is a secret, and Gingrich hopes to defuse this story line by placing Callista in the limelight. Yet, his jump into the presidential pool will likely produce a series of tales and news reports about Gingrich's bad-boy days, for as long as he remains in the race. ...

    To wit: this morning, as news of Gingrich's pending announcement spread, a fellow I know sent the below email.

    Hoyt Clark at the New York Times expressed when anonymous sources should be used:

    "The policy says anonymous sources should be used only as 'a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way.'"

    Of course, just because that's NYT "policy" doesn't mean they've done well following it. But the above three stories don't come close to hitting the mark of being "compelling." Not in the least, actually. The GOP playing politics with the deficit? Who knew? Huntsman could be a good candidate but likely won't win the nomination? Shocker.

    Corn's is easily the worst, however. Bringing back memories of when the national media could write about little other than Bill Clinton's penis, the story is yellow journalism at its finest. Regardless of your opinion of Gingrich, we all know he cheated. Having a full story - based solely on hearsay - of a night when Gingrich may have cheated on his then-wife is not journalism. It's tawdry rumor-mongering that belongs in the National Enquirer.

    Now, mind you, these are just three stories I stumbled upon today. I'm sure there are more unnamed sources in other trivial stories out there today. But the stories raise a valuable question - why should anyone speak on the record regarding anything?




    Newt Gingrich's stuff is NOT hearsay.  Who cares if we've already heard it?  He just announced his candidacy for President of the Party of Family Values today.

    Newt's background is known, and is factual.  What is your point?  That because we all talk about it, it must be rumor?  Sometimes facts are facts, and Newt's "family values, or lack thereof" are documented.  


    Hearsay?  Ask his first two wives if you want to get some lively HEARSAY!  That is not what the point of this article was, but I would consider their statements FIRST PERSON rather than hearsay.


    I'm going to guess you didn't follow the link to David Corn's story.

    Actually I caught that story earlier over at Mother Jones. It didn't strike me the way it did you; I guess it is because Ii have admired David Corn for so long. Yes, it is gossip, but that is how these things get aired at the beginning, anyway I believe the details; it really isn't anything new. Made me feel sorry (again) for the second wife.

    Ok. Sorry if my comment came off as rude.

    I think Corn's story is OK .. 

    There are two issues : the relevancy of the  story and the identity of the story teller.

    As to relevancy ,I agree with Cville.

    As to the source we have no need to know the identity of the story teller. He's not news. We do need to know we have some basis for deciding how reliable he is..  Corn provides that by saying that he's known him for a long time.Readers can make their own judgement as to whether that's sufficient.


    I think that reporters/journalists/pundits/liars use anonymous sources for their own self aggrandisement.

    I am important. I know people who are so famous/powerful/rich that I cannot even let you know who they are.

    However, I do recall that Sir Gwain & the Green Knight was written by a guy who called himself Anonymous.

    So being anonymous cannot be all that bad!

    I'm all for anonymous writers, actually. They just have a much higher bar when it comes to trust.


    Oh that Clinton movie. Always kills me.

    Who wrote this?


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