I say all of that to acknowledge that I am firmly in a glass house as I cast this stone. But, let me pick it up and throw it: The way campaigns -- most prominently that of Hillary Rodham Clinton, although she is far from alone -- seek anonymity for, well, everything, these days has become totally ridiculous.
New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney . . . attributed some information from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to a key spokesman, Jesse Ferguson. The longtime political reporter did this (on Twitter) despite a press release specifying that the information was on background, meaning that it could not be attributed to a named person, but to an anonymous campaign source.
These tweets from Adam came less than 24 hours after reporters assigned to cover Clinton's campaign met for two hours to talk about a general lack of media access and a demand for secrecy in sourcing in the early days of the former secretary of state's presidential bid. As HuffPo's Michael Calderone wrote: "Attendees of the meeting, who were not authorized by their news organizations to speak on the record, charge the Clinton campaign with keeping an excessively tight grip on information, even when it comes to logistical details that don't seem particularly sensitive or revelatory."
Yes, reporters complain. Yes, we whine. And, yes, as The Post's Paul Farhi notes, we often don't take our own advice about a willingness to speak on the record. (I am as guilty as anyone of that.) But, none of that excuses the way in which the ability to speak under the cloak of anonymity is now being abused across the political spectrum.
At this point, the whole idea of speaking "on background" -- meaning your words can be attributed to an "official" or an "aide" or some such but not to you by name -- has lost all meaning. "Background" sourcing should be reserved for specific instances in which sensitive information is being passed, information that could cost the source a job or get them into trouble in some other major way.
Instead, "background" is used to pass on things like: "Hillary is pushing a middle-class message that appeals to all Americans." Um, no.
You might assume that the fault for all of this lies with the Clinton campaign and its ilk on the Republican side who go on background to pass along such juicy tidbits as "The crowds for Jeb have been huge. Way bigger than we expected." (For the record, neither that Jeb Bush quote nor the Clinton one above are real. But, similar sentiments have been expressed dozens of times over the course of this campaign already. Trust me.)
You'd be wrong. The fault lies with us reporters who let all of this happen with barely the bat of an eye. Campaigns are forever looking for ways to take advantage -- whether that's with donors, grassroots activists or, of course, the media. If you could pass along everything -- positive information about your candidate and negative information about the other guy/gal -- without your name attached to it, wouldn't you? Of course you would.
What Clinton and the rest are doing is pushing the boundaries of what's acceptable behavior with the media. And they will keep pushing as long as the media lets them. Given the appetite for "new" news and "scooplets" -- not to mention the vast fracturing of the industry over the past decade -- it's hard to see the media rising as one to object to the envelope-pushing that the campaigns are engaged in.
It's also tougher than you might think to come up with a definition of what can and can't be on background that works for all reporters. What I might think is not worthy of being on background could well be seen by another news organization or reporter as a plenty worthy. And, you can't simply eliminate all anonymous quotes or information-passing. Anonymity remains a way that major stories of import to the public get broken. It's a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater-type situation.
All of which means that those boundaries between on the record and anonymous will keep getting less and less sensible, meaningful or effective, according to one journalist who works for a major media organization and writes a political blog.