Many big papers have rules about when reporters can use anonymous sources. It should be rare, and the information generated should be important and difficult to get without granting a source the privilege to speak anonymously. Of course, reality is different–as Janine Jackson documented in the new issue of Extra!.
Anonymous sources supposedly aren't allowed to abuse the privilege to attack someone–and they also aren't, as Jackson noted, supposed to do the opposite:
Both papers officially caution against special pleading and spin, along with quotations, as the Post rules have it, "whose only purpose is to add color to a story."
"He does not carry Wall Street baggage," said one Democratic strategist working on the Obama reelection effort, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss his thinking. "He's really smart. He's definitely authentic."
The flattery is bipartisan–here's a Gingrich adviser, in the same piece:
A Gingrich adviser, speaking anonymously, said the former speaker's long interest in traditionally Democratic issues such as inner-city poverty is "an underestimated advantage" in a general election and could soften his image with independents. Gingrich plans to start talking this week about "conservative solutions" to urban problems, the adviser said.
Is that a reference to the "advantage" of advocating that poor kids work as janitors?