I grimace every time I read a news article in which someone with something to say about an issue is judged sufficiently significant to warrant a mention but who insists on anonymity.
My grimacing muscles got a major workout from the Nov. 28 article “HealthCare.gov tech team scrambling to create workaround,” in which this ploy was used six times.
I understand, though I do not agree with, the reasons why journalists use anonymous sources, but I find strange that they do not appreciate how these reasons may come across to readers. For example, the writers of this article stated that certain people were speaking on condition of anonymity “in order to be frank.” Were some or all of the people they quoted by name not being frank?
Another source required anonymity “because of the matter’s sensitive nature” — the “matter” being the administration’s inability to meet an internal target by a certain date. What part was sensitive? I suspect it was the desire of the source not to be associated with the claim that the administration will fail to meet the deadline. All we know about this source is that he or she was “involved in the project.” In what capacity? On the government side? As an employee of a contractor? Might the source have an ax to grind?
Then we have the source who wanted anonymity because the information being discussed was “not public.” Not public can mean a lot of things — confidential, secret, classified, hidden or not yet ready for disclosure — but we have no idea.
And so it goes. Anonymity “to discuss the matter freely.” Speaking “on background to discuss private conversations” industry representatives had with administration officials. Anonymity for an administration official “to discuss ongoing operations.”
The only reason journalists should grant someone the privilege to make statements anonymously is if (a) doing so publicly carries a high risk of physical danger and (b) the information is crucial to an ongoing investigation of corruption, malfeasance, misfeasance or outlawry that cannot be brought to the public’s attention any other way.
Otherwise, anonymity carries the unacceptable possibility of personal agendas, vendettas, deliberate obfuscation or just gossip.
Dan C. Heldman, Manassas