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Posted by on Jul 21, 2014 in Featured, Media, Politics | 2 comments

White House press secretary criticizes anonymous sources, yet scheduled anonymous chat

If you live in a glass house …
be careful of the stones you throw

In the daily briefing Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized a story that relied on anonymous critics of the Administration. [icopyright one button toolbar]

An unnamed female reporter replied:

Beyond the Washington Post story, I just want to point out … You criticize anonymous sources but we have anonymous sources from you all every day. I think we have a call today. How can you criticize that when that’s what you basically give us every day, except for the briefing?

Anonymous sources should not be used for routine briefings (as the scheduled call seems to have been).

Here’s the Society of Professional Journalists on anonymous sources:

1. Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

2. Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

And from April, this essay from John Christie, editor in chief of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting:

That’s one problem with anonymous sources: They often get it wrong because why make sure you have it right when you will not be held accountable for what you say.


This false god – relying on anonymous sources to be first with a story – has always been a problem for journalism.

In the past, there were two major causes of this problem. Now there’s a third, and it threatens not only journalism but also our democracy.

As much as I dislike their over-use, sometimes anonymous sources are the only way to pry into the “real” story. Think whistleblowing. But a scheduled interview set up by the White House press secretary? Ummm, no.

By kowtowing to politician demands for anonymity, reporters and their news organizations have set themselves up as patsies. See Valerie Plame.

The Washington Post story

Although Earnest asserted that the story in question was based solely on anonymous sources, his assertion is false (assuming that this WaPo story is, indeed, the one he is referencing and the linked report says what the lede claims).

See for yourself:

Nearly a year before President Obama declared a humanitarian crisis on the border, a team of experts arrived at the Fort Brown patrol station in Brownsville, Tex., and discovered a makeshift transportation depot for a deluge of foreign children.

Thirty Border Patrol agents were assigned in August 2013 to drive the children to off-site showers, wash their clothes and make them sandwiches. As soon as those children were placed in temporary shelters, more arrived. An average of 66 were apprehended each day on the border and more than 24,000 cycled through Texas patrol stations in 2013. In a 41-page report to the Department of Homeland Security, the team from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) raised alarms about the federal government’s capacity to manage a situation that was expected to grow worse.

The first anonymous source is cited in the 12th paragraph. That is not an elevated position in the story.

Here’s the exchange on YouTube:

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