Anonymous sources and some 19th-century history

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Post should be ashamed of using anonymous sources to smear writer Michael Hastings for his Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal ["McChrystal allies say article broke ground rules," front page, June 26].

There are times when the use of anonymous sources is justified, to get an important story such as the exposé of secret CIA prisons or extralegal wiretapping of Americans. But there is one particular use of blind quotes that has always seemed to me utterly wrong -- the blind personal smear.

"Officials close to McChrystal" found The Post eager to enable their cowardly attack on Hastings for allegedly violating ground rules about what was on or off the record. "A senior military official" was unwilling to speak on the record but happy to use The Post to denounce a reporter. So was "a member of McChrystal's team who was present for a celebration."

Hastings put his name on the story. So should The Post's sneaky sources. Or The Post could have refused to run their complaints. The public would not have been deprived of anything important.

Adam Clymer, Washington

The writer retired in 2003 as chief Washington correspondent of the New York Times.

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Regarding Jason Horowitz's June 28 Style story, "McChrystal's major folly: Violating president's rules on media management":

First, while Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk did indeed have a poor relationship in the 19th century, the circumstances of Taylor's nomination for president were far more involved and subtle than "When Polk marginalized him, an enraged Taylor ran for president in 1848 as a Whig and won."

This makes it sound as though Taylor got mad, went home and campaigned much as candidates do today when in fact, the Whig Party was divided, Taylor avoided positions on most major issues, and at no time did the general lose his command.


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