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Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Unidentified sources =

poor journalism

Eighty five percent of quotes attributed to "unidentified sources" are fiction, a prominent reporter said on condition of anonymity.

"The authors just make up a quote to suit their needs and attribute it to an "anonymous source," he said.

All right, I made that up.

I don't really know how many of such "anonymous" quotes are made up.

But that is the problem with such quotes. You don't know, and there isn't anybody out there to dispute the facts. There is no credibility to such a quote.

It's called shoddy reporting.

Unfortunately, it is offered up as regular fare by reporters these days both print and broadcast. There is no excuse for such lazy reporting (even for the television types, most of whom aren't really reporters just pretty people who can speak without tripping over their tongue).

The men that taught me this trade wouldn't hear of using an anonymous source, but they are dinosaurs left over from an earlier age. For them, it was the mark of a lazy or incompetent reporter. A good reporter can find a good source, they said a good source willing to be quoted.

News outlets have one commodity to sell and that is their credibility. Without credibility, it's over. Unfortunately, the media, print and broadcast, has been chiseling away at its own credibility for the last 30 years in this manner.

Ever since Watergate the anonymous source has been journalistic chic. It is an "ends justify the means" mentality. The Watergate story couldn't have been broken when it was if the reporters had waited around digging for a legitimate source.

But it would have been broken. It just would have taken longer.

You can't keep a scenario like Watergate under wraps forever in the American political environment. But Woodward and Bernstein and The Washington Post didn't wait. They broke the Watergate story and used "Deep Throat" for a source. Maybe they were afraid that if they held out looking for a good source they would be scooped by another organization not quite so picky about who they quote.

Those who defend their reporting argue that the story was so important, it was necessary to bend the rules. Like most "ends justify the means" scenarios, however, this trail ends in an abysmal swamp. A swamp where the good guys look just like the bad guys because they have adopted the bad guys' tactics and morals.

A swamp where rules don't count, only results.

Mostly, it is just sloppy reporting sloppy reporting that destroys credibility.

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