07/26/2011 02:26 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2011

Debt Ceiling Stories Use Anonymous Sources, According To Newspaper That Uses Anonymous Sources

Reporters in Washington pretty much rely on anonymous sources to write their stories, because reporters need zazzy and divisive comments from people loathe to give them, in order to fully tell the story of nothing that they routinely tell, and solve no problems related to the lives of ordinary people. I think that this article from Politico, however, is probably the Anonymous Source Singularity.

See, we're having these "debt ceiling negotiations," which are a fake dumbshow about nothing, in which lawmakers too cowardly to make tough choices pretend that they are being "held hostage" and may have no other choice but to make a tough choice. Naturally, very few people want to have their names out there, supporting something -- the whole point of the fake negotiations is to place the blame for the ensuing public discontent on another party. So everyone's talking to reporters off the record, and every reporter is gleefully writing down these anonymous statements and regurgitating them.

A reporter at Politico noticed that anonymous sources have dominated the coverage, and wrote a story about it. This isn't much of an accomplishment, seeing as how this is a practice Politico engages in all the time. It would be like your weatherman reporting that his forecasts were primarily derived from "extant atmospheric conditions."

Here are three terrifically strange paragraphs:

Whether all the secret-sourcing has contributed to a greater public understanding of the dynamics at play is debatable. But many agree it's been necessary.

"Anonymous sources are the crack cocaine of journalism," said Wendell Cochran, a journalism professor at American University and senior editor of the investigative reporting workshop.

"Probably at this juncture you can't cover a story like this without letting people be unidentified because you won't have anything," Cochran said. "But we have also gotten to a point where we have trained people that they don't have to be on the record."

"Many agree it's been necessary!" In this case, "many" is this one dude, Wendell Cochran, who doesn't actually argue the "necessity" of anonymous sources, as much as he notes that everyone has become inured to a set of lazy and terrible journalistic traditions that now hold sway over all political reporting. If a refusal to have anonymous sources means you don't get a story out of it, that sounds to me like an ideal situation! (Reporters can always find an unemployed person in America to talk to! Lots of stories to be had about life in America!)

But this piece gets weirder still:

"I can't recall any recent story so heavily reliant on anonymous sourcing. It's a matter of concern for every journalist in this building," said a White House reporter for a national newspaper chain.

Yes, you read that correctly. The story on anonymous sourcing is supported by a quote from an anonymous source. (This is actually old hat to Politico.) And what possible reason would a "White House reporter for a national newspaper chain" have to fear from being known as the person behind that statement? Is he/she worried that his/her journalism might become good as a result?

At any rate, I kind of love the fact that one of the named sources explained to Politico that "Anonymous sources are the crack cocaine of journalism." That's like telling a crack cocaine addict that crack cocaine is the crack cocaine of crack cocaine.

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