[imc-rochester] A survey of reporters about the use of anonymous
gary at gocek.org
Mon Aug 1 19:55:43 PDT 2005
I recently took part in a reader survey about the use of anonymous sources
(such as Deep Throat) by reporters.
In general, the survey results show that, "Most readers and journalists
agree that rewards can outweigh the risk of reporting based on anonymous
The survey didn't ask about anoymous sources who turn out to be criminals,
or whose anonymity hinders a criminal investigation. In my opinion,
whistleblowers deserve protection, but not criminals. Consider the case of
the exposure of the CIA agent. Sure, the source should come forward and
identify the leak, but if that doesn't happen, the reporters are citizens
who must decide between a promise of anonymity and the exercise of justice.
The mainstream press, including Gannett and Messenger-Post, strongly defend
the practice of the protection of anonymous sources by reporters, and they
decry the court orders demanding the release of reporters' notes. The
mainstream press does not seem to differentiate between whistleblowers and
I'm not accusing any reporter of any wrongdoing. A story could be published
before the reporter becomes aware that a source has knowledge of criminal
activity. But when the investigation begins, and then stagnates without the
help of the anonymous source, I say it's time for the reporter to see that
justice is served, even if it means breaking a promise of anonymity.
How far are reporters willing to go in protecting an anonymous source? I'd
like to survey some reporters. In the case of the CIA agent, it's unclear
if a law was broken or if the agent has suffered. But let's say a reporter
writes a generic story about child abuse. A source comes forward and is
promised anonymity. But instead of telling a story about some past abuse,
it becomes clear that the source knows of ongoing abuse. (This is
hypothetical.) The source won't act or name the abuser or the child, and
claims that the loss of anonymity would be disastrous. But a child is being
abused. Does the reporter honor the promise of anonymity, or does the
reporter expose the source so that authorities can investigate?
With respect to anonymous sources, do reporters differentiate between
whistleblowers, political criminals, and violent criminals? I believe that
reporters do not protect the republic by protecting the press at the expense
of victims of crime.
Am I on a useful track? Or am I confused?
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