April 13, 2005

Memo on Anonymous Sources

Readers of The New York Times demand to know as much as possible about where we obtain our information and why it merits their trust… In the last few months, readers and our professional colleagues have asked for additional assurances… We should avoid automatic references to sources who "insisted on anonymity" or "demanded anonymity"; rote phrases offer the reader no help and make our decisions appear automatic…When possible articles should tersely explain what kind of understanding was actually reached by reporter and source, and should shed light on the reasons and the source's motives.

To: New York Times Washington bureau reporters
Subject: Supplement to the Times Guidelines on Anonymous Sources

In response to critics who are pressing the Times to go even further in clarifying our sources, I am now instructing reporters to print every possible detail which could help our readers understand why sources must remain anonymous. This policy goes into effect immediately. So that these rules are absolutely clear, here are some examples of anonymous attribution that meet our tough new standards:

  • The source, a former pest-control worker from Texas who cleverly disguised his voice by blasting 80’s metal-hair music each time he responded to questions from a reporter…
  • The source, a Chinese bond trader whose secret alter-ego is known only to his mildly autistic hair dresser…
  • The source, a state department official who hastily invented a pseudonym, hid under her desk, and would speak to a reporter only over a telephone crudely constructed from toilet paper rolls and bobby pins…
  • The source, a governor of a large Southern state who would have revealed his name but for the presence of his overprotective mother…
  • The source, a former intelligence analyst with strong ties to the pasteurized smoothie import/export industry and who agreed to be identified only by reference to the existence of a hairy, infected protrusion on his right lower abdomen…
  • The source, a Voice of America staffer who suffers from a chronic case of the munchies and would only communicate through what she described as “smoke signals…”
  • The source, a former high-ranking official in the US government who insists on remaining nameless but who revealed that he detests a vegetable which begins with the letter ‘b’ and is often prepared steamed, with a light sprinkling of soy sauce…
  • The source, a would-be Iraqi insurgent whose intense embarrassment over his nom de guerre “Abu Silly Chanigi” led him to declare fatwah on anyone who would reveal his real identity…
  • The source, a Foreign Service officer who has been unable, since 1986, to take a firm stance in the whole “to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to” debate, but whose charmingly crooked smile was partially evident below her Tony the Tiger Halloween mask…

I forward to seeing this policy promptly implemented, and thank you for your continued commitment to keep the “Gray Lady” great.


PS – if you are not sure whether a particular attribution fits the policy, feel free to submit it for review.

By Will Friedman in Humor/Satire | Permalink  | 


Or not!

Posted by: Will | Jun 5, 2005 6:44:42 AM

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