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Behind the Rahm Emanuel 'conspiracy'

A greater problem, I think, was its heavy reliance on anonymous quotes. At least a dozen people were quoted by name, showing depth of reporting. But there were more than a half dozen others quoted anonymously, comprising more than a quarter of the story's length. Most supported Emanuel. The story could have stood on its own without them.

Readers properly complain about The Post's overuse of anonymous sources. They're often unavoidable, and Horowitz said he granted anonymity only after failing to persuade sources to speak on the record. But assertions offered with impunity erode credibility, especially when politically savvy readers suspect that Emanuel supporters are trying to spin The Post.

In the first two months of this year, more than 70 Post stories have relied on anonymous quotes. Based on archival research, that's well ahead of the pace for last year. Simply put, too many appear in The Post.

Broder said he was troubled by the number of anonymous sources in Horowitz's story. "I think it's a general problem at this paper," he said, adding "it's a particular problem when it involves a matter of policy or personnel and readers are left in the dark about who's talking."

But Broder's column criticizing Milbank and Horowitz contained a beefy section that anonymously reported "what others in the White House think is going on" with Emanuel.

"I'm not pure about it," Broder readily acknowledged. "I did it myself."

Andrew Alexander can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman

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