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Unnamed sources

Yesterday a friend and I exchanged emails on the topic of newspapers use of unnamed sources and the tactic of trying to compensate for that by providing a brief (and often ridiculous) explanation for their anonymity. My friend had alerted me to one of the sillier of these formulas appearing in that mornings New York Times. A story on Egypts recent shifts in foreign policy quoted an official who remained anonymous because the issues were still under discussion in diplomatic circles. Now Im not sure whether the hue and cry about citing anonymous sources, although I strenuously avoided it in my reporting days, isnt overdone. But surely this kind of virtually meaningless justification for anonymity is ripe for parody, and I suggested as much to my friend. In no time at all, he came back with a litany of improvements on the current fashion: Blah, blah, blah, etc., etc., etc., the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because ...he didn't know what he was talking about....he didn't want to alert his wife that he wasn't where he said he'd be....he didn't plan to tell the truth....he did plan to tell the truth....he is suffering from short term amnesia and isn't quite sure who he is....he was embarrassed that if his name were used everyone reading the story would think "Who's he?"...he was saying off the record the exact opposite of what he said on the record yesterday....this reporter is ashamed to admit that the highest "official" that would talk to him was the doorman.Enjoy, or devise your own. By the way, my friend is a priest and former communications director of a prominent Catholic organization that has the words United States and conference of Catholic bishops in its title. He has been granted anonymity because he wants to avoid the appearance of having a sense of humor.

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"he was saying off the record the exact opposite of what he said on the record yesterday.I'm not sure this is too far off reality.One of our local city councillors voted to continue a costly and pointless lawsuit. The next day, he called me up and said he would confirm the costliness and pointlessness of the lawsuit if a) I would wangle him an endorsement in an upcoming election and b) I didn't use his name. I told him no. (Some officials in other cities who had pursued similar litigation were willing to speak on record about the matter.)Stuff like this happened fairly often at the local level.

I just wondered if this thread was timed to coincide with annual White House Press Association gala.I thought the POTUS gave an inspirational urge to a press that sorely needs it.On the other hand, i wondered how anyone (in these days of repression) who had USCCB connections could complain about anonymous sources.Made me think we need a Catholic Press association gala similar with Hierarchs in the audience to see if they could take some ribbing with the grace,say, of that spoiled boor Trump.

speaking on condition of anonymity because .... he is actually the publisher of this newspaper. (like in my local community paper).

OMG, Irene, that is a hoot!

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.