with me. This is nuanced. "Both sides," please read it all before characterizing my view.
Face it: The reliance
on unidentified sources is diminishing the impact of Jeffrey Goldberg's story in The Atlantic. I'm not criticizing it. I get the argument -- reprisals and much more -- that
there was no other way to do it.
I've made it clear I believe the president made those disparaging remarks about those
who served and and even died. His disgraceful on-the-record remarks about John McCain showed his hand.
I've used unidentified
sources, involving substantive issues tied to sports, not separated shoulders.
I revered Woodward and Bernstein and
Hersh. Flash forward many years. In this case, I praise Jeffrey Goldberg's work and the reporting of those who followed up
The "problem," though, is that the list of those cited as saying they would know, but
he didn't say it, is long and growing. They're identified. I'm not going to one by one evaluate their credibility or whether
the Atlantic vs. countering accounts are mutually exclusive and contradictory, or possibly both true. (I'm just cynical enough
to wonder if anyone was off the record with Goldberg, but on the record in the countering stories as denying any of it happened.)
sources comes with the unspoken kicker: "Trust us ..."
I do. In this case, wholeheartedly.
But it is too
easy for the denialists, from the top down, to pander to the element that dismisses so much with, "We don't trust the
reliance on unidentified sources leans into that punch.
They make it too easy to wave off the Atlantic report and
those from others "confirming" it as agenda driven. You know the various ways that's being done, including with
charges that "sources" have agendas themselves and have exaggerated or concocted. Or even, in ridiculous extremist
views, that the sources are made up. (I can't emphasize enough, that's ridiculous.) Do editors know the names of the sources,
which might be the same sources repeating the same allegations both to the Atlantic and then to those "confirming"
the story? Sure. But again, that comes down to: "Trust us."
Yes, there was similar pushback during the Watergate
coverage, with the WaPo accused of agenda-driven reporting. Attorney General John Mitchell's distasteful threatening remark
about publisher Katharine Graham to Bernstein remains infamous. For years, of course, we pictured Hal Holbrook (or "Mark
Twain") as the "Deep Throat" source only later identified as Mark Felt.
in the time of social media and so many alternative media outlets that preach to their own choirs, this is different. This
isn't 1972. "Just trust us" doesn't work.
Good editors always have challenged reporters to make unidentified sources the last resort. But in 2020,
it's even more imperative to says "just trust us" less often and to be able to have identified sources standing
behind what they say. It can be up to the public to evaluate the credibility of what was said or alleged, given how much (malarkey)
is out there daily, but at least it's done with a face on the quotes.
That's all a meandering way of making the point
that I just so wish that -- for the good of the country -- the sources would have allowed their names to be used. Or step
I am not as naive as that makes me sound. Most of all, I know that rather than case-by-case, open-minded
common sense judgments, reactions today more than ever are tied to red/blue predisposition and are disgustingly predictable.
(This was adapted from my Facebook post.)