The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Shafer tries to Pied Piper the anonymice

Now, I'm pretty sure that, in the struggle against the abuse of anonymous sources, what we have is Joementum.

The most affectionate of dogs turns into the Hound of the Baskervilles when you try to prise a meaty bone from its jaws: and these dogs weren't too friendly to begin with.

However, after Daniel Okrent on Sunday (June 13), Jack Shafer fights the good fight in Slate today.

He suggests anonymous statements are perversely prized by some as being more reliable than those made on the record:
In their minds, the further a source distances himself from the information, the more honest he'll be. This attitude dovetails perfectly with the widely held viewpoint—correct, I might add—that most official, on-the-record comments are bull.

What delightful blackmail! If you make me go on the record, you'll never get the truth. Off the record - it may be your lucky day.

Sometimes, the USG disinformation effort is retail - man to man, word in Bob Novak's ear. Often, it has to be wholesale: Shafer walks us through the sort of communal briefing process that an announcement of a USG initiative might go through.

Of course, USG needs the story in every paper the next day; and Shafer points out that the method also aids communication with the legislative branch - the timing ensures Committee chairmen don't first read the story on the wires.

But these omnium gatherum anonymous sessions also serve to foster communal spirit amongst the journos: everyone is equal, by assembling the corps one fosters esprit de corps; and, by treating the journos as a mass, one encourages groupthink, keeps the herd together, discourages mavericks by showing what they'd be missing by straying.

Shafer's idea is for hacks to drop a dime on their USG handlers, by outing them to him. Good luck with that!

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