The Washington press corps deserves a flogging for its promiscuous use of anonymous sources. D.C. journalists claim that their reliance on blind quotes is a function of supply and demand: Reporters outnumber sources in this town, and that equation allows sources to dictate the terms of engagement. If the reporter refuses the source’s demands for how their comments will appear in print, the source can usually shop his story to a more willing collaborator.
The crime of blind sourcing ranges from the craven, as when Washington Post reporter John Lancaster allowed the foes of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to unload their petty criticisms under the cloak of anonymity, to the mundane, as demonstrated in yesterday’s Maureen Dowd column.
Writing about the womanizing ways of aging politicians, Dowd drops this veiled quotation toward the end of her column.
“It’s a geisha syndrome,” said a Democratic strategist. “These guys all want to come home, have their necks rubbed, have their slippers handed to them, and be told what big, virile men they are.”
Why this “Democratic strategist” deserves anonymity, especially in such a fluffy column, is beyond me. He isn’t a whistleblower who will lose his job for telling the truth. The Republicans can’t hate him any more than they already do. The Taliban isn’t likely to retaliate against his family in Kabul for his remarks.
Dowd traditionally credits the quipsters who feed her funny lines, so my guess is that the strategist was 1) too modest to accept the attribution outright but 2) vain enough to request some identification so that he could brag to his pals that his wit had saved Dowd’s column.
Enough. Henceforth, Press Box declares war on all blind sourcing except when circumstances truly warrant it. If reporters and columnists want to make readers guess who their cowardly sources are, then we’ll guess.
My guess: The telephone friendly Robert Shrum.
What’s your guess, reader? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post the best speculations below–provided that you’re willing to have your name published with it.
After we root out Dowd’s source we’ll go gunning for bigger anonymous sources. If you see a particularly egregious example of blind sourcing in a newspaper or magazine or on the Web, please let me know at email@example.com. I’d love to unmask the various State Department and Defense Department sources who bully beat reporters into putting their innocuous comments on background.
Who Is Dowd’s Source? The Readers Guess
Reader Kim Benabib says, “It’s too too” to be anyone else than Maureen Dowd herself!