Here's a weird one for you: A man who was about to receive favorable publicity from me insisted last week that he be allowed to speak anonymously, or "not for attribution."
It wasn't because the man was shy. Hardly. He is a senior vice president of Standard Federal Savings and Loan, one of the largest financial institutions in the metropolitan area. You don't reach that level by being bashful.
His reason for going incognito was more complicated. Standard Federal has what this official called an "absolute, blanket policy" against cooperating in the creation of publicity. Negative or positive.
"But, sir," I pointed out. "I wrote last week that your company doesn't provide walk-up windows at its branches. I've since learned that you plan to add them over the next couple of months at five of your 19 branches. All I want to do is set the record straight so I don't damage you. What's wrong with that?"
"Maybe you're honest," the man replied. "And maybe most newspaper people are honest. But what about that one guy in 20 who twists what you say? How do you protect yourself against him? That's why we say no on-the-record interviews."
"Isn't that like cutting off your leg in case your toenail decides to start hurting?"
"Maybe so," replied this polite but insistent official. "But when it comes to business, we don't take chances."
As you can see, I've respected the Standard Federal official's request for anonymity, for the same reason that any newspaper reporter would: It was my professional judgment that accepting information from him without naming him was the only way I and my readers were going to get the full story about the walk-up windows.
But I find this episode discouraging, particularly since I went out of my way to be fair to Standard Federal.
Let's face it: Many journalists wouldn't have felt that they owed the company a call at all. If you haven't written an out-and-out falsehood, the reasoning goes, why hunt for a way to make yourself look bad?
But I guess the well has been poisoned to the point where one company feels the best offense is to play nothing but defense. That's shortsighted and sad -- not because I take it personally (I don't), but because no business has anything if it doesn't have trust.
And Standard Federal has it. When it lent millions of dollars to thousands of borrowers, didn't Standard Federal say loud and clear that it trusted people? If a company is capable of one kind of trust, Mr. Senior Vice President, it should surely be capable of another.