2007/04/06

Open Letter to Jeffrey Schneider of ABC News

Essentially, I agree with what Glenn Greenwald says and have very little to add to it, but I'd like to make a few comments about anonymous sources in general.

The following quote is from the New York Times and not ABC News, but to me it's very indicative of the kinds of stories we get that use anonymous sources:

"Some Democratic lawmakers who are critical of the administration’s Iraq policies say they now accept that there is a connection between Iran and the E.F.P. attacks in Iraq, though they emphasize that Iran is not the primary reason for instability in Iraq."


Firs off, let's presume that everything said here is true. Given that, what are we to make of the assertion that the anonymous Democrats (i.e., at least two of them) "are critical of the administration’s Iraq policies"? Well, "critical" in this case could mean anything from "The Bush Administration is not fighting hard enough" or that they have committed insufficient troops to the task or that Donald Rumsfeld was incompetent. These Democrats could be anyone from Hillary Clinton to Joe Lieberman (Who continued to be incorrectly referred to as a Democrat after losing that distinction in the 2006 Connecticut Democratic primary.) to actual, serious opponents of the president's policies. In other words, that qualification doesn't actually mean very much, it has holes big enough to drive a truck through.

It could very well be that the Democrats in question accept a link "between Iran and the E.F.P. attacks in Iraq," but do these Democrats have enough knowledge of military hardware to realize that a roadside bomb using shaped charges and a small plate of copper is actually a very simple device to construct? That there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Iran has anything to do with EFPs? That Iraq has many hundreds of thousands of military veterans that are fully capable of manufacturing such devices?

In short, the anonymity of the aforementioned Democrats is a strong reason to believe that they're conservative Democrats who support the President's war policies in any event and are simply grabbing onto any reasonably plausible excuse to back those policies.

I don't see anything trustworthy about anonymous sources (By contrast, the usual blogger is a pseudonymous source and the distinction is important. The pseudonymous source is stable, it's the same person with the same writing style over a period of time). I can see that once in a great while, a source must remain hidden because they're saying something that their boss might not approve of, but that's about one case out of every 40 or 50. The vast majority of anonymous sources I've seen in the media over the years are people who are spouting Administration-approved talking points. They tend to be senior people in the Administration who have an axe to grind or an agenda to pursue.

90% of the time, anonynimity is granted for dishonorable reasons, to make the source appear more trustworthy than is warranted. Why do they do it? I believe they're trying to be a "blank slate" where the viewer/listener/reader can write in their own desires. Johnny Carson and Vanna White are premiere "blank slates." No one knows their real opinions on anything and therefore people simply project their own opinions onto them. That's fine for show business, but it's horribly inappropriate for people in politics where citizens have to be able to gauge and evaluate what people's motivations and state of knowledge are. I am upset and aggravated when I see statements like the one I quoted at the beginning of my letter. The statement leaves far more questions than answers, there are too many holes in what the person says.

And good grief! I really have to add that the six-paragraph story on the upcoming Clinton vacation is about five paragraphs too long. Good heavens, what a silly, useless waste of time! And what a despicable way to sneak in Monica Lewisnky's name! ABC News has absolutely ZERO claim to any sort of gravitas.

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