Rahm Emanuel, as The Washington Post admits, is a guy who has “long relationships with the media.” He’s apparently cashing in his chips with a story about how well the Obama administration would be doing if it only followed Rahm’s sage advice. It follows on Dana Milbank’s column less than two weeks ago suggesting pretty much the same thing.
Whether I agree or not (I don’t), the story again demonstrates The Post’s willingness to base a story almost entirely on anonymous sources, perhaps as many as five for this story (as we can’t be sure that at least instances aren’t the same person).
According to a person familiar with the conversations, who discussed the confidential deliberation on the condition of anonymity…
…an early Obama supporter who is close to the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment…
…said the [Congressional] member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss frustration…
…according to another administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.
…who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The newspaper seems to have forgotten its ombudsman’s advice of last August.
The Post also is inconsistent in how it describes unnamed sources and the reasons they were granted anonymity. Post policies say that readers should be told as much as possible about the quality of a confidential source ("with first-hand knowledge of the case," for instance). They also say "we must strive to tell our readers as much as we can about why our unnamed sources deserve our confidence."
As all of the phrases above suggest, sources were granted anonymity so they could advance a broad agenda accusing the president of doing too much instead of playing the Washington game of doing the minimum that’s needed for Congressmen to get re-elected. Basically, they were granted anonymity to feel free to bash the president as none of the reasons given for anonymity amount to more than that.
When Ombudsman Andy Alexander wrote his column on August 16, 2009, he found 160 instances of the phrase "spoke on condition of anonymity."
A LexisNexis search today finds that The Post has already used the phrase 118 times since the beginning of the year, which would work out to about 590 times for 2010.
As Alexander suggested in the headline to his August column, The Post is increasingly “Ignoring the Rules on Anonymous Sources.”