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On Anonymous Sources

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Remember the game “telephone”? When a line of kids pass along a bit of information to see how that information changes as it’s passed along? What starts at one end of the line is often unrecognizable by the other end. It’s a simple concept – the further from the original source you get, the more the information fails to reflect reality. This is what journalism has become, a never-ending game of telephone.

Actually, since “telephone” has likely gone the way of the dodo bird, with everyone communicating via text message these days, the name needs a bit of an update. The closest thing I could come up with is REO Speedwagon. That name likely doesn’t mean anything to anyone under 30, but they were a band in the '80s that had a hit song called, “Take It On The Run.” It opens with lines that might as well describe what now constitutes a credible source for journalists: “Heard it from a friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another you been messin' around.”

While that level of disconnect from the original source might be enough for someone to question the stability of their relationship, it wasn’t always enough to warrant being reported. In fact, it rarely, if ever, was.

There used to be very specific ethical guidelines for the use of anonymous sources in journalism. As crazy as it sounds, there had to be a good reason a person wasn’t putting their name to a quote or information. If their job or their life were at risk, it was understandable and anonymity was granted. Short of that, someone either had to put their name to it, provide official, irrefutable documentation to back them up, or there had to be secondary, independent confirmation. A source couldn’t say they’d heard or seen something and give the name of a friend the reporter could contact, who also wanted to remain anonymous, to verify their story.

These guidelines were important and guarded against the press being used to settle petty scores, personal vendettas, or embarrassing innocent people with false allegations. All that is gone now. The very thing ethics were created to prevent are what journalism has become.

Nothing exemplifies this better than the 4-year journalistic jihad against President Donald Trump.

Is the president a perfect person? Of course not. Is he Hitler reborn? Absolutely not. The distance between those two options is where we all live, but the leftist media has shoved their coverage of the president through the filter of the latter exclusively.

When you believe your subject is evil you don’t require evidence to report something evil about them, they’re evil so it must be true. With that “standard,” you get: “Sources: Trump had heart palpitations on Friday, a possible negative side effect of Regeneron antibody treatment. His fever reached 103. And a G7 ally wonders if he’ll appoint Ivanka president instead of Pence,” and “One reason Trump could be withholding truth of his condition: he doesn’t want calls for transfer of power to grow. At what point does Cabinet consider 25th amendment?” from the likes of a Vanity Fair reporter.

Wild speculation from a CNN personality reporting, “It is very likely that Russian intelligence agencies -- through signal and human intel sources at Walter Reed, etc -- have more information about the President's condition than we do (though I think we all know how the president is doing.)” Because, why not?

Not to be out done, MSNBC personality Joy Reid told her followers “nothing” the president’s doctors tell the country “can be believed.”

So the Russians have spies at Walter Reed, Trump is afraid the 25th amendment will be invoked by his VP and Cabinet, he’s considering, somehow unexplained, ceding power to his daughter instead, and we can’t trust his doctors, according to the “party of science.” And this is just the tip of the random, wild speculation iceberg from people with “sources” who may or may not exist. When the standard for anonymous sources is so low that something you’re already inclined to believe, even wish for, comes to you, you run with it. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a position to know or not, the narrative is fed and that’s all that matters.

Reporters used to face consequences for being wrong, now they don’t even face losing awards they’ve won for their false reporting. They used to face a wall of editors who’d demand their assertions were proven, their sources were real, and in a position to know, now they just tweet with impunity.

Hearing from someone who’d heard it from someone in a circle with someone else who may very well know would’ve been interesting a few years ago, and caused an honest reporter to dig deeper until they verified information or couldn’t. Now it’s the fast-track to social media buzz and a cable news contract. Add in hatred of the subject and a desire for rumors to be true and it’s the perfect liberal storm. It’s also not remotely journalism.

Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!), host of a daily radio show on WCBM in Maryland, and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.

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