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nicole473 On October - 28 - 2009


The use of anonymous sources in the media, has blurred the line for bloggers and journalists alike.

Don’t have a source, but you believe something is true (or not), print it anyway, subscribed to that ubiquitous anon source, no responsibility on your part to prove your premise.

Yesterday I landed on the latest HuffPost article related to that most annoying rogue, Sarah Palin.  The story itself was sourced, unlike so many others on Huffington Post. What was unsourced were the comments of the bloggers, many of whom posted links to various Palin blogs, all links related to a story about the birth of Palin’s youngest child, Trig.

You may recall that during the campaign, shortly after Palin was introduced as the RNC’s latest Pig With Lipstick, a story began circulating on the net regarding the birth of Trig. The speculation involved a number of images of Palin, timing, and other factors, and many bloggers (even mainstream bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan) bit on it and made it in to a crusade.  The overriding problem emerged; there was no real evidence to support the theories. It was all based on conjecture and anon sources.

Even mainstream,  highly respected bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan, got pulled in to the story, and became obsessed with speculation.

I had already determined that I would not publish anything which referred to her children on my(former) blog, and so I avoided the “Trig Trap”. But, in another example, I fell right in to that proverbial trap, and I still am not sure how I feel about it.

Here again I am using Sarah Palin to make a point, as a story emerged about an incident which reputedly occurred in Alaska after Obama’s primary win.  An incident, you may recall, in which she is said to have referred to Obama as “Sambo” —  “So Sambo beat the bitch!”.  I first read the story on the LA Progressive site.

Does it sound plausible to you? It did to me, so enraged at her derisive and racist name calling, I decided to blog it myself in spite of the lack of  anything but one anonymous source.  Unfortunately for me, my conscience soon forced me to reconsider, and so when I could not get Snopes to verify it, I pulled the original post from my blog.

The author who first published the story faced a similar issue, although he chose to publish anyway, and eventually was so heavily criticized, that he also published the story of how he got the story.  You can read his original post here. And his follow-up commentary,  in which he defends his use of anonymous sources,  here.

And that brings me to the question which I have been considering ever since, and which was once again brought to the forefront not only by the story on HuffPost which brought out the bloggers, but by the many speculative stories put out by Queen Arianna in her seeming quest to hate on Barack daily……….

Where do we draw the line?

While it’s a great deal of fun to spin conjecture in to full-fledged fantasies, is it right to do so?

Are anonymous sources just a means of printing pure conjecture?

What’s your opinion?

28 Responses so far.

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  1. AdLib says:

    Well said, excellent piece!

    Looking at how the MSM has gotten lazy, ratings crazed and in bed with corporations (not to mention serving their parent corporations), I think the growth of the internet for news and opinion has been fueled by their declining lack of standards, investigative journalism and independence.

    People don’t trust the MSM the way they used to and that’s a good thing. They turn to the internet but that too is vulnerable to corruption as we have seen.

    The down side is that the MSM has become corrupt and can’t and shouldn’t be blindly trusted again after the march to war in Iraq (for which they all pounded the drums) and cowardice throughout the Bush years.

    The up side is that these internets tubes provide a medium and platform that allows people of reason to speak out on issues and seek truth alongside those who want to obscure the truth.

    And we can watch hamsters rolling around eating kernels of popcorn on piano keyboards at the same time!

    • nicole473 says:

      Thanks, Adlib. 🙂

      I think the fact that we’re talking about standards for publishing news on the net is likely an indication that many of us are concerned, and striving to do it differently.

  2. Kalima says:

    Most MSM with the exception of KO and Rachel, remind me of the party game, where 20 0r more people have to whisper into the ear of the next person in line what they heard from the person to their right or left and the last person has to say it out loud to everyone there. It was always hilarious because it was just a game. Reporting downright untruths as facts for millions of viewers or readers is not a game and can at times be dangerous. Anyone who does this should be shamed into admitting that in fact it is just an unconfirmed rumour and proved wrong on the internet or articles. Oh silly me, Faux news? has no shame.

    • nicole473 says:

      Very apt analogy, Kalima!

    • FeloniousMonk says:

      I would include the first 30-40 minutes of the Ed Show in that short list, right up to the point where he brings in the panel and lets some person from the right start their propaganda. Ed brings them in line to a degree, but they irritate me to no end.

    • AdLib says:

      The film “Network” announced what was coming down the line. Once the corporations took over networks, news was required to be another profit center.

      Truth is not necessarily interesting at times, it doesn’t get the highest ratings or bring in the ad bucks. So for networks and cable news, “Truth” was canceled.

      Who knows, maybe we can catch “Truth” in reruns on Nick at Night.

      • Kalima says:

        The demise of investigative reporting unless it’s hanging in a tree outside some celebs house all night peeing in a jar, is very sad. Has someone got their balls in a vise??

      • FeloniousMonk says:

        Unfortunately, those going to their windows and yelling “I won’t take it anymore” aren’t the sane ones who understand why they’re yelling, but the ones who are yelling because of the lies they’ve been fed.

  3. KQuark says:

    Very timely and adroit article. The forth estate died once it sold out and became profit centers when they use to be loss leaders. The blog world is no better because they report option and like you stated stories from “anonymous sources” as fact without the proper fact checking required. “Anonymous sources” are not the root of the problem. The press has used anonymous sources for decades to get at the truth. The problem is with the 24/7 news cycle and the blog world the pressure on the current media to report news stories in a vastly compressed time frame. We are going to see more and more of these stories that are simple not true. How I miss the fourth estate.

    • nicole473 says:

      Thanks, KQ.

      I don’t have a problem with the use of anon sources, persay, only that they have become a prop used to support fake stories, rumor, and conjecture, by way too many in both the MSM and the blogosphere.

  4. BigDogMom says:

    Wonderful post nicole, I’m finding it harder and harder to believe the information that is out there, whether it be on the news or in print…I’ve taken to reading between the lines and checking two or three other main news outlets to see how close or how far apart they are…

    • nicole473 says:

      Thanks, BDM.

      I do the same thing. It’s a shame it has come to this, but perhaps we’ll see an “honesty” backlash at some point.

      Not gonna hold my breath though. 😉

  5. kesmarn says:

    Nicole, great points.
    One of the most annoying and most favorite tactics of the right--especially Fox--is to make their point by asking a question: e.g. Rahm Emmanuel, is he in charge? ACORN, corrupt from top to bottom?
    They can then say: “We don’t have an agenda! We’re just asking questions! That’s what good journalists do, isn’t it?”
    All wide-eyed innocence…

    Is HP far behind?

    • nicole473 says:

      Good points, kesmarn! Since HP seems to be leaning more and more fauxnewslike, I suspect we will be seeing more of those types of stories also.

      Ugh. I hate that the whole world thinks that AH is such a lib.

    • BigDogMom says:

      ‘Just saying…’ The throw it out there and see if it sticks type of questions..gives the author/journalist an out if they are called out on their statement…Just asking, as Lou Dobbs would say…:]

  6. FeloniousMonk says:

    It seems that substantiation gets harder, not easier. The infamous “Google it” has turned into a waste of effort often as there is so much misinformation that you have difficulty finding the base sources and what was really said.

    My current example is the Fox News / White House story from last week regarding the news feed. There is already a mythology built up around this “war” and what happened. Did Fox get purposefully slammed or not. According to my favorite liberal talking head, no, but I can’t find the information to accept or deny it, and already I have people who are buying the MSM adopted (?) story as Fox puts it out. I’m simple, I’d like to know what’s real on it.

    People forget the deliniation between data and information, and sadly, between fact and spin. Having grown up with “Uncle Walter” I remember what relatively unadulterated news was like, even though I know even then there was corporate and, to a certain degree, government tampering with it. I also know that our own mythological history of getting the facts from newspapers doesn’t hold up in the light of day as much as we’d like, whether we look at Randolph Hearst or newspamplets from the Revolutionary War.

    The discerning reader or observer must have a strong ability to look at the character and motivation of the source and the presenter, the type of information and the voracity of it as compared to other proven information, and whether or not there is a case for honest deniability. Unfortunately, far too many have become either too lazy or lack the cognitive skills to take this effort on.

    • nicole473 says:

      I, too, grew up with Cronkite. These days, watching the news is like watching a talk show more often than not. It frustrates me, so I have largely stopped doing it, preferring instead to daily read the sites I trust such as the NYT, Andrew Sullivan, TPM, Think Progress, etc..

      It is most difficult to get good info lately. And IMO, it is one reason why responsible bloggers should be so careful not to report the garbage.

      What are you writing? A piece for PlanetPOV? If so, looking forward to reading it!

      • FeloniousMonk says:

        I’m working on an opinion piece about the idolization of the past. It wasn’t easy for FDR and how things he did are much more difficult now.

        And how, unfortunately, some of the back to work programs he had were immediately stifled in congress this time, ie., no parks, no…

        BTW, for good information on military related items, including acquisition, the budget, and program pros and cons, try CDI.org. They’re a non-partisan think tank which doesn’t take money from any of the Military Industrial Complex and has very good analytical thinkers. Having made my living in the M-I-C for years, I can tell you they’re dead on. OMG, I can write the word ‘dead’ here without a flag!

        • AdLib says:

          Look at the GOP, all they do is idolize the past. “I want my country back!” they scream.

          Glenn Beck blubbers about how we need to go back to the good old days.

          Anyone who’s not a white Christian male shudders at the thought because they know what Mississippi in the 1950’s means but for the undereducated in the GOP, it sounds so wonderful to be transported back to the golden days of yesterday.

          Yes, take us back in your time machine, GOP, back to a time when I didn’t have to see gays or blacks or Mexicans around! When being white was enough!

          And how cynical are these types of Republicans who pander to the ignorant and lead them on to think that somehow the wonderful, halcyon past can be recreated today if only Republicans are put back in power?

          • KevenSeven says:

            Hunter S. Thompson introduced me to a word: atavist. Or atavistic.

            I detest atavists. A mindless romancing of the past.

            Back when women and negros knew their place?

          • FeloniousMonk says:

            I’ve got news for them all. “Happy Days” weren’t that happy. Even if you were part of the established structure, you still had to work at “fitting in”. Picture what Rock Hudson must have gone through. Let alone the children of the poor who wanted to get ahead. It wasn’t until Eisenhower started to assist those rocking the boat in Little Rock, and then establishing things like National Defense Student Loans, that many of us stood any chance of going to school, even in educationally progressive states like Kansas.

            • nicole473 says:

              I have never understood racism, or hatred of others based on any immutable characteristic.

              It also enrages me so much that I almost love it when a troll makes an obvious comment on HP just so I can spell out for it exactly what I feel about it.

        • KQuark says:

          So true. FDR would never have gotten his agenda through with Faux News and the rest of the right wing echo chamber nipping at his feet.

          Even with the Great Depression FDR still had to compromise on Social Security. It took almost three years to pass and it was highly compromised. Occupations that were heavily filled with women and minorities were not covered by SS. At first GOVERNMENT employees did not have access to SS. Can you imagine how progressives would be calling FDR a trader by today’s warped standards?

          • FeloniousMonk says:

            First we progressives would have called FDR an elitist for having been born into wealth. Then we would have complained that the $1 a year advisors were all rich insiders.

            Even we like to emphasize the negatives and ignore the positives. I saw a PBS piece recently that talked about how FDR’s polio helped to make him the man of the people he was. It was very interesting. Funny how illness is the true great equalizer for us all, at least until we get to having to pay for it.

            • KQuark says:


              FDR had to deal with “social conservatives” AKA the “Dixiecrats”. They were the ones who left woman and minorities out of the first Social Security bill.

        • nicole473 says:

          I think Krugman was at one point comparing Obama to FDR.

          Thanks for the tip! I plan to check it out, as I am woefully underinformed in that area especially. And, I hate not being able to discuss it intelligently.

          LOL on typing “dead”!! 🙂

          • FeloniousMonk says:

            There is an article somewhere on the Newdeal20.org website that suggests that perhaps the president is closer to Hoover in his belief in the technocratic side of things. I’m still trying to decide, but then again, I’m a lover of both Roosevelts.

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