I can accept anonymous sources up to a point. They’re not ideal, but sometimes, there’s no other way to get the hard info on a story.
But the lack of transparency raises doubts about the quality of the journalism and trust the reporter. It’s a leap of faith.
So whenever we come across an unnamed source, we should wonder:
- Who is the source?
- Is he really in a position to know what he claims? Has the reporter provided enough background info on the source to help us make our own judgment?
- Why can’t he be identified for the story? Are readers given a plausible explanation?
- What are the source’s possible motives for speaking to the reporter?
- Is he fudging anything?
- Could the info have been obtained on the record from somewhere else?
The ethics get even murkier when these anonymous sources move from objective info to interpretation and analysis.
Which brings us to Reuters. Reporter Dan Williams gives a soapbox to claims that the Klos-C weapons ship intercepted by Israel was delivering arms to Sinai jihadis, and not, as Israel claims, to Gaza.
Unfortunately, all the voices that this report is based on are anonymous. All assess the story, but there are no hard facts that weren’t previously known.
And Israel has already denied the report.
It’s certainly plausible that some (or even all) of the M302 rockets, mortars and bullets were meant for Islamists in the Sinai (or even other parts of Africa).
And I’m open to the possibility that Israel claimed these weapons were destined to Gaza to spare Egypt’s government some embarrassment. As Reuters brilliantly reported recently, Cairo’s having difficulty taking back the Sinai.
But to base a news report on nothing more than the hypotheses of “a U.S. official and two non-Israeli regional sources,” none of whom are identified, isn’t journalism.
And if that’s what Reuters wants to indulge in, I’m perfectly willing to spend an hour with Williams over coffee ruminating on a wide variety of topics, some of which I’m even qualified to discuss. I’ll do it on the record too.
That’s Benson with a B.
Image: CC BY flickr/Julian Carvajal