A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Anonymous is Not Apropos

I have stated on this blog that I don't do anonymous, that is when I get anonymous comments, if they contain criticism of anyone or anything, I delete them. (I do allow anonymous comments as long as they don't engage in critique, which is really difficult not to do since often affirmation of one is implicit criticism of another.) The reason for this is simple. Anonymous is a cowardly person. Those who want to criticize others needs to step out from hiding in the cyberspace bushes and quit firing their shots from the shadows.

I also don't pay attention to anonymous letters or emails, and that includes letters and emails from anonymous parishioners. If you want to criticize me, that's fine; but since I cannot remain anonymous in the discharge of my duties, those who would critique how I do what I do must 'fess up as to who they are. If I get an anonymous email complaining about another staff member, that too is ignored. There is a belief swirling around in our culture, and codified in our justice system, that the accused have the right to face their accusers. I really like that belief. So I don't do anonymous.

The biggest transgressors of utilizing anonymous sources are journalists (at least it seems that way). And now that we are in the throes of another election cycle, journalists are reaching into their grab bag labeled "anonymous" and throwing out quotes left and right.

In yesterday's Get Religion.org (whose subtitle is a quote, "The press... just doesn't get religion"), the writer, tmatt, who is not anonymous, rightly complains about journalists and their generous employment of the anonymous source.

The article concerns Texas Governor, Rick Perry, who has just thrown his hat into the presidential aspirations arena. Now, this post is not in support of Rick Perry, nor is it one that is written in opposition to Rick Perry. In fact, I know very little about Rick Perry, other than he is a Republican and the governor of Texas. I do not pay attention to presidential primary races, whether Republican or Democratic. I can hardly stand dealing with the campaigning of two candidates let alone ten. I also find primary races, whether Democratic or Republican to be quite boring; and I find the people who are really interested in them to be boring as well. And if there is one thing I do worse than anonymous, it's boring.

But what concerns the writer is not the politics of Governor Perry, but all the anonymous quotes that journalists are using in their coverage of him. The writer, who calls himself a conservative Democrat, makes the point well: "The bottom line: If people want to take shots at Perry (or Barack Obama, for that matter) on religious/political subjects, then let them do so with their names on the record."

I completely agree. Not only is such a practice unfair to the politicians who publicly put themselves "out there;" it also does not allow us who read or listen to decipher whether the person in question making the claim is even an authority on the subject. As tmatt notes,
...mainstream reporters will not be able to accurately cover this kind of story in which politics and religion are woven together without due diligence to the journalistic basics — including the clear attribution of quoted material. This is especially true when covering religious beliefs and statements of fact about religious issues.
Of course, even that probably won't help much. Many political pundits and journalists who go on the record often don't get religion and politics anyway, but at least they will be forced to demonstrate whether or not they are competent in the basics of their craft.

And it is not an unreasonable expectation from their readers and hearers.
What do you think about anonymous sources and journalism? I am not interested in comments on Governor Perry's politics nor President Obama's politics nor anyone else's politics for that matter. I am only interested in your thoughts on anonymity in journalism.


PopLid said...

"And I hate Pseudonymity even more than Anonymity" Allen R. Bevere

Kevin said...

The way I look at it this is your blog so you get to set the rules. All bloggers have to deal with this question. Too much anonymity and the threads can degenerate into name calling, unfounded accusations and simple profanity. Too far the other way and you will get no livley discussions going. At the same time I recognize the need for some people to keep their names quiet because they could suffer serious repercussions. As far as journalists go anonymous sources will always be a part of journalism. I count upon the editors to ensure the sources their reporters are using are credible. Where would the Watergate story have gone without anonymous sources? Unfortunately in today's electronic age the journalist is often his own editor. There are often no controls. I am of two minds on this topic.

Dan Smitley said...

You let me down. I thought this was going to be about the hacker group Anonymous (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anonymous_%28group%29). Drats!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Sorry, Dan.

Gary Lyn said...

I would make a distinction in the use of anonymous sources in journalism. These sources can be invaluable for gathering information and facts for a particular story. As one person has already said, where would the Watergate investigation have gone without anonymous sources. But these sources were pointing to facts, not offering opinions about the Nixon White House. Yes, when a journalist uses the opinion of an anonymous sourcem that is definitely crossing a line. But to be honest I see very little of that happening in professional journalism.