On the same day that the New York Times has journalism talking about anonymous sources, Politico demonstrates in one article how to use them and how not to use them. Titled “Trump campaign manager’s behavior prompted staff concerns,” the article looks back at the work history of Corey Lewandowski, the Donald Trump campaign manager under fire these days for allegedly yanking the arm of Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields after a campaign event one week ago.
It’s a smart and worthwhile undertaking that stems from an important question: Is there a pattern here?
Yes, there is, report Politico’s Ken Vogel, Ben Schreckinger and Hadas Gold. For instance, they report, Lewandowski used to oversee activism in about 10 states for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-supported group that organizes for conservative causes across the country — and things didn’t go too well:
But some of his most fiery clashes came with a female official who ran one of the states under Lewandowski’s control. The relationship ― and patience for Lewandowski within AFP ― reached a tipping point in October 2013. On the sidelines of a meeting of the group’s board in Manhattan, Lewandowski loudly berated the employee for challenging his authority, getting in her personal space and calling her a “c—” in front of a group of AFP employees, including some senior officials, according to three sources who either witnessed the exchange or dealt with its aftermath.
Here, anonymous sources yield specificity that make this claim checkable. There’s a time frame, a place and a particular set of circumstances.
Same thing goes for the article’s contention that a group of Trump campaign aides were scheming to undo Lewandowski’s authority in the most interesting of ways:
A group of current and former high-ranking members of the campaign last month planned to deliver Trump a letter outlining concerns with Lewandowski’s management, according to multiple sources familiar with the planned mutiny. Complicating matters, the businessman is not directly reachable by email and frequently has Lewandowski at his side. So the plan was to deliver the letter in an envelope to Trump’s head of security, Keith Schiller, in the days between the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucuses, with instructions to give it to Trump and no one else.
Now compare all that to a damning set of allegations against Lewandowski that stem from his work with reporters on the campaign trail:
“He can get really hot headed at times,” said a reporter who has covered the campaign and interacted with Lewandowski throughout the cycle.
Additionally, reporters told POLITICO that Lewandowski has made sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments to ― and about ― female journalists who have covered Trump’s presidential bid. One reporter who was on the receiving end of such comments described them as “completely inappropriate in a professional setting.”
Lewandowski said in an email that he’d never behaved inappropriately with female journalists.
That’s publishable? Is that all the evidence necessary to label Corey Lewandowski the sexist pig of campaign 2016? Can Politico at least cite a single example of this vulgar behavior? The open-ended, plural phrasing — “sexually suggestive and at times vulgar comments” — suggests this is an everyday occurrence, given the failure to cite specific incidents. How often does it happen?
Politico, of course, may well be onto something here. The sexism of Trump is well documented, and it surely could creep down the ranks via organizational gravity. Yet this article just hasn’t nailed down the allegations in a way that readers can trust. That Politico faces obstacles in nailing down a story of this sort is plain to anyone who has considered the prejudices facing women in the workplace: Any victim of the Trump campaign’s alleged sexual harassment faces the wondrous choice between suppressing the story and dealing with the humiliation in silence, or going public and enduring the same brand of character assassination that Fields encountered. Which would you choose, Mr. Media Critic?
So there’ll be no elbows thrown at Politico for failing to secure more detail on this wrinkle in the Lewandowski story — just for publishing the flimsy passage it considered ready for the public. A Politico spokesman issued this statement when asked whether the reporting complies with internal sourcing guidelines: “Obviously this is an incredibly sensitive subject. This story was carefully sourced, carefully reported and carefully edited. It’s accurate.”