February 26, 2013

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) Michael Moore

All you anonymous sources out there: Now may be a good time to take a little time off, given how rough recent months have been on you.

You idiots screwed up spot-news coverage of the Newtown shooting, in every which way. Ryan Lanza instead of Adam Lanza; buzzing into the school; Nancy Lanza working at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Just look, you ninnies, at the embarrassment you heaped upon the New York Times.

The Daily Caller has relied on you guys and gals for all kinds of nasty reporting about some senator. Those are some serious charges; you better hope you’re right about those ones.

And what on earth were you telling the Breitbart people? That stuff about Chuck Hagel and “Friends of Hamas”? Crazy, total nonsense. Have you no regard for your reputation? Do you think journalists will continue to rely on you after such a performance? Don’t answer that one.

From the looks of things, you recently hopped on a plane from Washington to LAX, the better to feed some faceless reporting to BuzzFeed. As you well know, filmmaker Michael Moore took a bunch of credit last week for getting Oscar-nominated director Emad Burnat out of a jam with U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he came to the United States to attend the Oscars ceremony. He’d co-directed “Five Broken Cameras,” about life in the West Bank.

Here’s your starring role in this affair, Mr. and Ms. Anono: Via BuzzFeed: “Monday morning though, a source at LAX challenged Moore’s account of the events, calling the allegations that Burnat was detained ‘baloney’ and asserting the whole thing was an elaborate publicity stunt for the film.”

You probably enjoy the attention, sitting there proud to have stoked a little controversy—yet you don’t have to answer to a soul. Fun, huh? And BuzzFeed is now saying that there’s just one of you:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred in its deck and first sentence to “sources” at LAX; in fact, as the body of the story made clear, the criticism of Moore’s account came from a single airport official.

How we love to pluralize you! Dave Weigel of Slate caught Breitbart.com doing the same exact thing. Give me one good reason, you cowardly, conniving, shadowy, agenda-driven noddies, why we would trust more than one of you! W. Joseph Campbell, a professor of communications at American University and a journalism historian, says, “I think it’s an artifact of the Watergate reporting.”

Word: “We developed the two-source rule during Watergate. It was if somebody was being accused of criminal activity or unethical actions,” says Bob Woodward, who happens to be a fan of you guys, with proper checking, that is. “There’s no hard, fast rule,” he says, noting that if you have a good unnamed source and good and solid “backup” and the “person accused is not commenting, you might use it.”

Let’s see if that model fits BuzzFeed’s LAX story. Indeed, the site had a single one of you guys saying that Moore’s self-aggrandizing story was wrong. When BuzzFeed attempted to contact Moore to check on your tip, the guy reportedly didn’t reply, a situation that he explained after the story hit the Internet:

 

 

Moore is challenging your faceless contention, made to BuzzFeed reporter Tessa Stuart, about Burnat’s interactions with Customs. From the piece:

When Burnat arrived at the Customs and Border Protection desk at LAX, the source said, he was asked to state the purpose of his visit; when he said he was here to attend the Oscars, he was asked to produce his ticket.
When he wasn’t able to produce that document on spot, the source continued, Burnat was taken to a secondary inspection area where he found the ticket, showed it to  Customs officers, and was immediately allowed to proceed to the baggage claim.

So you told BuzzFeed that a ticket was brandished. Moore insists that was impossible:

 

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed editor, declined to comment about the apparent mess you and Stuart have made here, on the grounds that the story is still being reported.

While that process plays out, you wimp, get together with your buddies, regroup and draw up a new mission statement. From Watergate through drones, journalism needs you to be on your game. No more of this nonsense.

UPDATE 4:14 p.m.: BuzzFeed has marshaled several additional anonymous sources, plus notes from a log, to buttress the account of its original source.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.