“Sources close to the minister.”
We quote them all the time. I’ve been guilty of it myself. Sometimes, the only way to get information is to protect a source. And sometimes, that protection is cover for a handler to control the message while remaining safely anonymous.
I’ve been thinking about this since I read “A fatal lack of accountability“. The argument is simple: How much less misinformation would we report if ministers and their official spokespersons were held accountable for their words.
There’s an insidious process at work every time a journalist grants anonymity. Something that should be a calculated decision based on special circumstances has become casual, almost routine. It sounds so much more impressive to say “sources” than “this is the official line”.
And every time we do it, the risk of source capture rises. Journalists become stenographers, passing on the official line. Next thing you know, press officers think they can screen what questions you ask.
Fionnan Sheahan tweeted about just such an incident today, although he did not name the press officer in question.
There’s a simple solution: Next time, name the press officer who gives you the quote you needed for your article.