Does a ‘savvy media observer’ require anonymity for smack talk? Apparently so!

In Lloyd Grove’s column about The Intercept, a “savvy media observer and journalist” lets Glenn Greenwald’s new publication have it:

“Snowden revelations are not really the headline-makers they once were—at least not so far,” said a savvy media observer and journalist based in France, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I think what we’re going to see over the medium term is a pattern similar to the one established when Wikileaks was in its heyday: If there’s a good scandal or a juicy slur about local officials, it makes news in a given country; if it’s just more of the same about American policy, it’s likely to move to the back pages if, indeed, it gets picked up at all.”

Let’s just let that waft on the breeze for a moment.

OK. So when someone’s life well-being is in danger, and they have incredibly valuable information, by all means: Dim the lights, silhouette the source, bring out the voice-changer. Surely a “savvy media observer and journalist” would know talking smack about the vagaries of the news cycle doesn’t quite get over that bar. So why anonymity?

Under no circumstances should you talk about this man’s possible impact on the news cycle under your own name. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Maybe that person got to speak anonymously because there’s so much anonymity to go around these days. A Jan. 30 Politico story called “Why the rich are freaking out” offers a brilliant example of the kind of juicy quote you can get when you loosen the cuffs on your sources:

“You have a bunch of people who see conspiracies everywhere and believe that this inequality issue will quickly turn into serious class warfare,” said this person, who asked not to be identified by name so as not to anger any wealthy friends. “They don’t believe inequality is bad and believe the only way to deal with it is to allow entrepreneurs to have even fewer shackles.”

Apparently, being wealthy is a Dickensian fate where you constantly live in constant fear of angering your peers who — even though you don’t name names yourself! — might … charge extra smoothies to your account at the country club? Turn road signs around so no one can find the Irish castle you’re doing up? Cut in front of you at the monocle and top-hat shop even though you’ve got a ticket with a lower number?

In a piece bouncing off Michael Sam’s announcement that he’s gay, Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans spoke to “eight NFL executives and coaches” who were were “granted anonymity by for their honesty.” This is remarkable: Unlike Sam, it’s the people who won’t attach their names to their convictions who are being “honest.” They described a culture where homophobia is so widespread, so pervasive that…you for some reason have to speak about it behind a veil of descriptions like “a veteran NFL scout.”

And Ken Kurson’s story about New York Times Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal is a city of nameless snipers (or, if you prefer, “a bunch of cowards who’ll speak in colorful and unnamed ways“). Some quotes that opened up as a result:

• “‘He runs the show and is lazy as all get-out,’ says a current Times writer.”

• “One veteran reporter who has been at the paper for more than 20 years said, ‘”Bullying” and “petty” are Andy’s middle name.’”

• “One reporter says that he literally will not allow Mr. Rosenthal to join their lunch table in the cafeteria.”

Late last year, I visited The New York Times cafeteria and watched as Rosenthal approached the table where I was sitting to speak, collegially, with a journalist next to me. I’d give more details, but I don’t want to get that person into any trouble.

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  • abeaujon


  • Don Whiteside

    Oh, Andrew. What happened to editing and brevity, telling the story in the minimum words necessary and no more? Are you paid by the column inch? (How would that work anymore? Would you get a bonus when reading-glasses folks like me set the page to 110%? Huh.)

    At “So why anonymity?” you could have put, as the kids say, “Because chickenshit cowards” and been done. Tsk.

    Wait, I can’t post this anonymously? Nevermind.

  • CPO_C_Ryback

    Just round up the usual suspects.

    As usual. Yawn.

  • deliaruhe

    Well, how else would you expect second-rate journalists to respond to being snubbed by the head hunters at First Look?

  • Paul Wartenberg

    how can we be certain of any anonymous source being accurate or honest?
    while anonymous sources are inevitable – no one wants to be on-record – there ought to be a verification system whereby any subsequent story proves the anonymous source wrong or biased then that news source, reporter, or publisher cannot refer to that source anonymously in the future (the “Cry Wolf” punishment), and that the news source / reporter cannot protect the anonymity of that wrongful source in a court trial.

  • JTFloore

    yes, anonymous quotes are much maligned. on the other hand, I know of a former foreign correspondent who — somehow — always managed to find a “cab driver” or “bartender” in paris or rome or anyplace else who always seemed to come up with the perfect quote to summarize a story’s point. always wondered if any of those unnamed observers were ever real.

  • Robert Waldmann

    I am a very un-savvy media observer. So un-savvy that, when I read
    “are Andy’s middle name”, I wonder if 20 years at the New York Times weren’t enough for the veteran reporter to learn the meaning of the words ot knowing which is plural and which are singular am why the hell are only the words “‘Bullying’” and “‘petty’” directly quoted while the uh creative grammar is a paraphrase.

  • ZuDfunck

    Well, this is Awkward