31 Oct, 2010
NY Times ombudsman dabbles in anonymous sourcing
Posted by: admin In: Uncategorized
Here’s a link to Arthur Brisbane’s column in which he grants a former military officer anonymity to question the ethics of the Wikileaks dump. Brisbane has been on the job for about a month and has yet to write a column bemoaning the use of unnamed sources at his newspaper. Former public editors Daniel Okrent, Byron Calame, and Clark Hoyt all criticized the paper’s occasional over-reliance upon unnamed reporting. To my knowledge, they never wrote a column using an anonymous source.
Here’s the quote Brisbane received in exchange for anonymity:
“Analysis is not nearly as damaging as reports,” he said, drawing a distinction between the Pentagon Papers and the WikiLeaks material. Field reports like these make it possible “to get into the mind of the enemy. Anytime you do that you gain a tremendous advantage.”
To Brisbane’s credit, he offered a description of the source and the reason he requested anonymity — both explanations help offset the damage to transparency anonymous sourcing creates. Still, such an innocuous quote doesn’t seem to require anonymous attribution. Could Brisbane not find anyone willing to go on-the-record to describe the difference between analysis and a report?
I hope the ease with which Brisbane grants anonymity in his column isn’t a harbinger of his attitude toward their use at the New York Times. Okrent, Calame, and Hoyt did a good job chastising their overuse — I’d rather see Brisbane join the club, rather than join the journalists who abuse anonymous sourcing.