The news media crisis surrounding Newsweek — which recently retracted and “regretted” publishing an erroneous report about the sacrilegious conduct of U.S. Military personnel at Guantanamo Bay – underscores the problem with anonymous sources.
Whenever important information attributed to an unnamed source is news, the public assumes that the outlet reporting is vouching for the accuracy of the source. That means if the source is wrong, the media outlet takes the heat. But if the claim is on the record and has been properly attributed to an individual, the public holds that person responsible for getting it right.
While it can’t be easy, particularly for Washington-based or investigative reporters, to ignore anonymous sources and still do their jobs effectively, the current media crisis reinforces what many mainstream media outlets know already, and that critics and pundits have been echoing for some time now:
If the MSM wants to maintain the public trust, they’re going need a better way of dealing with anonymous sources.
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