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On the Condition of Anonymity

On the Condition of Anonymity: Unnamed Sources and the Battle for Journalism

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    On the Condition of Anonymity
    Book Description:

    Matt Carlson confronts the promise and perils of unnamed sources in this exhaustive analysis of controversial episodes in American journalism during the George W. Bush administration, from prewar reporting mistakes at the New York Times and Washington Post to the Valerie Plame leak case and Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS News._x000B__x000B_Weaving a narrative thread that stretches from the uncritical post-9/11 era to the spectacle of the Scooter Libby trial, Carlson examines a tense period in American history through the lens of journalism. Revealing new insights about high-profile cases involving confidential sources, he highlights contextual and structural features of the era, including pressure from the right, scrutiny from new media and citizen journalists, and the struggles of traditional media to survive amid increased competition and decreased resources. _x000B__x000B_In exploring the recent debates among journalists and critics over the appropriate roles of media, Carlson underscores the potential for unattributed information to be both an effective tool in uncovering necessary information about vital institutions and a means for embroiling journalists in controversy and damaging the credibility of already struggling news outlets. A timely cultural analysis, On the Condition of Anonymity maps the varying perspectives on confidential sources to foster a deeper understanding of moments of crisis, anxiety, transformation, and power in American history and American journalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09318-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Problems—and Promise—of Unnamed Sources
    (pp. 1-30)

    Readers of the May 26, 2004,New York Timesopened their papers to find an unusual note from editor Bill Keller on page A10. Fourteen months after the invasion of Iraq, the newspaper took itself to task for having bungled its reporting on the buildup to what was then in 2004 an increasingly unpopular war. Keller’s note called attention to the harm caused by competitive news pressures coupled with the difficulty of reporting on sensitive and secretive topics. But it was also an admission that unnamed sources—those known to the reporter but confidentially kept from readers—posed serious problems...

  5. 1 Media Culpas: Prewar Reporting Mistakes at the New York Times and Washington Post
    (pp. 31-51)

    In the early months of 2007, a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., hosted the unusual spectacle of journalists testifying about their behind-the-scenes interactions with executive branch officials. The trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the result of a three-year investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, occasioned a rare glimpse into how the news is made. Legally, the trial resulted in Libby’s conviction for lying under oath, which was subsequently nullified when President George W. Bush commuted his sentence. Yet the trial also exposed the close relationships journalists have with their official sources. The resulting parade of journalists spilling details of their...

  6. 2 “Blogs 1, CBS 0”: 60 Minutes and the Killian Memos Controversy
    (pp. 52-70)

    On Wednesday, September 8, 2004, in the midst of the hard-fought 2004 presidential campaign between incumbent George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, 60Minutesaired a segment titled “For the Record” questioning whether President Bush had completed his service requirements for the Texas Air National Guard. The story, narrated by Dan Rather, featured an interview with former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes claiming he had used his political influence to place Bush, as well as other young men, in the Air National Guard to shelter them from the Vietnam War. While this was notable, the public attention that was...

  7. 3 Journalists Fight Back: Newsweek and the Koran Abuse Story
    (pp. 71-90)

    In the first decade of the twenty-first century, no political topic consumed the American public more than the constellation of actions and policies dubbed the “War on Terror” by the U.S. government. The Bush administration’s aggressive multipronged response to the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington included such visible measures as wars abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan along with clandestine actions occurring across the globe out of public view. A public stunned in the immediate aftermath of the attacks rallied around the nation’s institutions, but soon a whole host of policy debates would arise around such issues...

  8. 4 Deep Throat and the Question of Motives
    (pp. 91-110)

    The public struggle to define news controversies involving unnamed sources regularly centers on questions of motive. Why has the source come forward, but only partly? Why be veiled at all? What is being left out? The subject of motive is particularly thorny when journalists defend their use of unnamed sources through invoking watchdog norms. In an ideal scenario, a potential source possesses information of value to the public but faces risks over being connected to any disclosure. When the whistle-blowing source reaches out to a journalist (or vice versa), the willingness of the journalist to publicize this information while holding...

  9. 5 “Journalism on Trial”: Confidentiality and the Plame Leak Case
    (pp. 111-137)

    Dan Rather’s hasty retirement, the failings ofNewsweek,and remembrances of Watergate and Deep Throat were all still fresh in the public mind when, on June 27, 2005, the latest scuffle over unnamed sources grabbed the limelight after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of theNew York Times’s Judith Miller andTime’s Matt Cooper. Months earlier, on February 15, an appeals court ruling upheld independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s subpoena of the two reporters as part of his investigation into who leaked Valerie Plam’s status as a covert CIA employee. The two journalists had sought an intervention...

  10. 6 Rethinking Anonymity: Problems and Solutions
    (pp. 138-162)

    As the dust clears from a string of struggles over unnamed sources at elite news outlets, the inevitable question arises: how did theNew York Times, Washington Post,CBS News,Time,andNewsweekall become embroiled in controversies involving unnamed sources? This was not a single story or an isolated wayward reporter, but an overlapping series of incidents united through their use of source anonymity, elite journalists, and focus on Bush administration actions.

    To start to untangle this mess, it is useful to first return to the discussion of unnamed sources offered at the outset of this book. While volumes...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 163-196)
  12. Index
    (pp. 197-202)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-206)