Media ethicist Clinton Portis became the latest person to weigh in on the rash of anonymous sources spraying information about the Redskins over the past two months. This happened when Portis asked if he noticed an obstacle in the way of sustained football success in Washington.
“You know, up until Coach Gibbs leaving, honestly, I never paid attention to the media, I never paid attention to the outside world,” Portis told Danny Rouhier and Grant Paulsen on 106.7 The Fan. (Listen here) “It was just a fun environment. I think the guys we had in that locker room, the brotherly love, the ins and outs — you know, guys would argue and keep it moving — but I never really paid attention to the media until after Coach Gibbs was gone. And all of a sudden, it was like how is everything that happens here leaked, and inside information, and sources say. It’s always sources say. And then that became the staple.
“Now it’s all of a sudden a trust issue within, because you don’t know who’s saying what,” Portis continued. “It’s always sources say. And I think that’s the quickest way to tear down a locker room. You have so many reporters from the Washington Redskins putting out a story, and all of it is sources say. And you’re looking around like, ‘How many people can talk to the media?’ And guys that you see talking to the media, you’re like well, I don’t THINK he said it. But all of a sudden it just becomes so many questions of who in this locker room is throwing me under the bus.
“And that’s the obstacle that’s in your way in that organization, because you don’t know,” Portis said. “Anything I ever said, it was, ‘Put Clinton Portis said,’ and let’s be clear, and I’ll correct it later if it was an issue. But outside of that it’s sources said, and anonymous, and the leaks that come out of the locker room. It just makes you look around like, wow, who’s in here?”
Now, first of all, anonymous sources have existed for as long as the Redskins have existed. See this, for example. That didn’t stop during the four years of Gibbs II.
Also, it’s easy for Portis (or me) to talk bad about anonymous sources when we aren’t beat writers, tasked with the unenviable chore of breaking news while making sure other local or national outlets do not get ahead of us on any stories.
That said, he (and I) could point out that you have to make judgment calls on when information is important and newsworthy enough to offer the protection of anonymity. And that some of the character attacks on various Redskins figures this season — comments that clearly wouldn’t have been made if the talkers were required to put their names on the line — might really have failed that judgment test, depending on the judge.