Friday, March 02, 2007

More on That 'Senior Administration Official'

I wrote on Wednesday on Cheney's bizarre habit of playing senior administration official as a way of cloaking his comments. There are times when the media has to rely on anonymous sources to write a story the public needs to hear, particulary in whistleblower situations. And there are times when it's important for an administration to talk off the record (such as testing an idea by allowing an unsourced administration figure to talk openly about something as a way of testing public reaction or possibly the reaction of a foreign government). But too often the Bush Administration has gotten somewhat absurd in its use of unsourced comments.

Ron Hutcheson of the McClatchy Washington Bureau has more on the Cheney nonsense:
The exchange during Cheney's flight to Oman on Wednesday highlighted the absurdity of a practice that's damaged the credibility of journalists and government officials alike. It's much easier to believe what people say when their names are attached to their words. Statements from unidentified people invite readers to doubt that the speakers exist outside of the reporter's imagination. If anonymity is designed to promote candor, it's difficult to find in the anonymous official's quote.

The Bush administration's use of anonymous sources has become a sore spot for reporters in the wake of a series of journalistic scandals involving fabricated quotes. ... Washington, anonymity is too often a cloak for cheap shots and self-serving comments. Some officials insist on anonymity to minimize damage if they misspeak or say something that might be embarrassing. Reporters play along to maintain good relations or out of fear that they might miss something if they refuse to participate.


"This has definitely achieved absurdity," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an organization that helps journalists protect their sources. "I don't look at this as anonymous sourcing. I look at this as big-time game playing. The only way to describe it is stupid."

Cheney is one of the most secretive elected officials in our nation's history. In many ways, he's more secretive now than when he was Secretary of Defense. His secrecy obviously invites the question: what is he hiding? Playing senior administration official doesn't help the public and raises any number of questions about the administration's credibility. The more important question, of course, is this: when is the Bush Administration going to start being straight with the American people?

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