The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy. When we use such sources, we accept an obligation not only to convince a reader of their reliability but also to convey what we can learn of their motivation–as much as we can supply to let a reader know whether the sources have a clear point of view on the issue under discussion.
The rules also stipulate:
- "We will not use anonymous sourcing when sources we can name are readily available."
- "We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack."
- "Anonymity should not be invoked for a trivial comment, or to make an unremarkable comment appear portentous."
With that, example No. 1 comes from a piece about the effect of the leaked Palestine papers on future negotiations:
Another top Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the big question for him was whether the revelations would make the Palestinians more timid in future negotiations because of public indignation. He said they seemed to be walking away from their concessions since they were revealed.
Alternatively, the official said, the opposite could be true–the Palestinian public could get used to the kind of concessions needed for a deal now that they were in the open, and that would ease future talks.
So things could turn out one way, or the other way. What a revelation.
In another piece on the political upheaval in Lebanon, we get this:
"We are concerned about Iranian domination of Lebanon through its proxy, Hezbollah," said an Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the situation in Beirut was not yet clear.
Presumably said official will speakon the record once things in Lebanon are "clear."
Ofgreater concern, though, is the charge that Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy. This isoften treated as a fact in U.S. media discussions, though afew months ago (10/17/10)an expert on such matters wrote this letter to the Times (see bold):
To the Editor:
Joe Klein, in his review of A Privilege to Die, by Thanassis Cambanis ("The Hezbollah Project," October 3), says Mr. Cambanis fails "to put Lebanese Hezbollah in the context of Iran's larger terrorist network." However, Mr. Cambanis is correct in his presentation; the idea that Hezbollah today has a place in Iran's "larger terrorist network" is ill-informed. Hezbollah has not been under Iranian political or military control for nearly a decade. It is now an organization operating on its own recognizance, although it continues to receive a fraction of its operating funds from Iran–much of it in the form of religious charitable contributions from its Shia brethren.
WILLIAM O. BEEMAN
The writer is a professor and the chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Minnesota.