The words first appeared in a Washington Post story on White House turmoil in the Rob Porter scandal. At the center of that scandal is White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. From The Post’s story:
Kelly is “a big fat liar,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.”
Quite a plausible evaluation. Following reports in the media of allegations that the former White House staff secretary had abused two ex-wives, Porter left his position, raising questions as to how Kelly and others handled the situation. As The Post reported last week, Kelly allegedly urged aides to spread a misleading story about his involvement.
Plus: A White House led by liars will fill up with liars. The Post and other publications have done extensive reporting on the falsehoods spread by Trump and his appointees, with the newspaper’s Fact Checker keeping a tally of false or misleading material.
At the same time, allowing an unnamed source to rip into even a high-ranking public servant such as Kelly bumps up against long-standing Post guidance. “We should not publish ad hominem quotations from unnamed sources. Sources who want to take a shot at someone in our columns should do so in their own names,” reads a small part of a policy that dates back more than a decade. Other outlets observe similar strictures.
Resisting delicious quotes from unnamed sources is a tough thing to do, primarily because they can say stuff that journalists cannot put in their own words — a profession of commentary that would be banned under another provision of the newsroom handbook. Yet the don’t-quote-anonymous-slams rule is among the most righteous of the journalistic establishment’s principles, if only because it discourages acts of cowardice by Beltway denizens.
Steven Ginsberg, national editor of The Post, tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “We felt it was important for readers to know what White House staffers have been saying about the chief of staff. Their comments echoed previous reporting we have done on his trouble with the truth and, in this case, were a reaction to specific actions taken by him. We would have preferred an on-the-record quote, but we felt it was appropriate to grant anonymity in this case.”