JCL Blog

Anonymous Sources: The NY Times Encourages Bad Behavior

Is it just me or is the use of unnamed anonymous sources increasing?  I guess it is not so much the fact that their names are withheld, but that the circumstances surrounding their wish for anonymity are freely disclosed and problematic.  The type I find the most disturbing are the direct references to sources who acknowledge breaching other legal agreements to which they have freely entered into.  

Here is an example from today's NY Times:

One person at the Department of Justice, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the situation publicly, said that the...

A person from the Department of Justice no less!  Either the person is authorized or not.  This is not a case where we need a whistle blower inside the Department of Justice.  The subject of the article is Google and it is not even about a conflict inside the Justice Department about how to handle the issue.

Here is a link to the official NY Times policy about anonymous sources.  Where the paper acknowledges that people may be skeptical of anonymous sources:

In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading

True, but a how about the readers who think the NY Times is encouraging people to violate, participating in the violation of, or portraying as acceptable the violation of other legal obligations.

Here is a post to the NY Times Freakonomics Blog about the matter where Ian Ayres exposes the paper's role in the misappropriation of other people's property.

But newspapers routinely grant anonymity to employees who misappropriate employer information. Often times these grants are given to sources who could be legitimately fired or disciplined for violating their fiduciary duty to their employer. The sources who steal — I mean misappropriate — employer information aren’t willing to directly disclose because they know they could be fired for the disclosure.

Here is a post to the NY Times Bits blog where a source is quoted in violation of a non disclosure agreement.

A senior editor of a major magazine publishing empire working on an internal corporate project, and speaking on the condition of anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement, told me...

Sure, the non disclosure agreement may have said that you can disclose this sensitive and proprietary information to the press but just not with your name attached, but I have never seen an NDA like that.  

Here is a post from the NY Times public editor about this from a year ago.  There is no mention of this business of encouraging people to break other legal agreements where there is clearly no societal greater good to be gained.

The New York Times and other leading papers should stop this practice.  Not only is the Times turning itself into a publisher of press releases by doing so, but they are reinforcing a growing societal norm that fiduciary responsibility or non disclosure agreements have no weight or meaning.