Here's a short essay: Although, I have just recently spoken up on twitter I have been carefully watching the coverage of the Sussexes since the Duke released his statement confronting the media on their racist and sexist attacks on his then girlfriend. I want to rewind to one of
the lowest points of the coverage: the series of supposed leaks from @KensingtonRoyal that followed on the heels of the very successful tour by the Sussexes. These ranged from allegations that the Duchess made her sister-in-law cry to rumors that she was abusing staff by
(and I really cannot make this up) texting them at 5 AM. Some preliminary thoughts: 1) these narratives are so stereotypical and lazy that I will not discuss that angle at length, 2) the coverage is very much a result of an unholy mix of
racism/classism/xenophobia/sexism, 3) it is not our responsibility as minorities to to figure out how many cups of each ingredient went into that unholy mix, 4) #myPalaceSource is one of the cleverest responses I have ever encountered
to an exasperating situation (my friend and I were crying with laughter), 5) it was unbelievable how far and wide those rumors spread (very much into credible media platforms worldwide) 6) this should have been shut down immediately
by real journalists in the UK--but went on for weeks, 7) but none of that is the worst part of all of this. The part that actually made me do double takes and wonder how brazen and disingenuous a small minority of reporters in the UK were was that . . .
These so-called journalists, who by this point were just operating as good old schoolyard gossipers, hid behind journalism to defend their use of anonymous sources. Yes, they had the nerve to pretend that they were upholding journalistic
standards in defense of the public interest. It was a sickening situation and there were very few voices standing up for the truth--that none of this passed the smell test (eg @KeirSimmons @victoriaarbiter @scobie). But let me return to this very weak
argument in defense of anonymous sources. The reporters were pretending to be ethical journalists on the level of the NYT and the WP so I just wanted clarify some things about the proper use of anonymous sources (and I'm not even a journalist):
1) They should never be a first option--a reporter generally wants transparency so that readers should know who is making the claims and make a judgment, 2) Even when used there should be a reason given by the journalist as to why this extraordinary step is being taken,
e.g. fear of retaliation etc), 3) Normal things that you do for all sources should be done here--the motivation of the source, verification by other sources and checking against other objective events or timelines, credibility, etc.
4) Consideration should be given to how badly information spreads between human beings (we all played telephone as children), 5) Of course, the public interest has to be paramount and weighed against taking the extraordinary step of using
an anonymous source, 6) Ideally the reporter would be in consultation with their editor throughout--for several reasons including that these kind of decisions require reflection, 7) the person being accused should be given a chance to make a comment
to clarify/defend/contextualize, etc. 8) Ultimately the journalist and the news organization should realize that their reputation is at stake and they should not let themselves be used as mouthpieces for a source
--an agenda is fine what the source is saying is verifiable and in the public interest. 9) Reporting these rumors second, third, or fourth hand (i.e. according to reports) does not get the news organization off the hook if the information is not in the public interest.
I continue repeating the phrase public interest because the ethical journalist is always guided by that. They continually ask themselves if there's a reason to release the information.
An example of an area in which anonymous sources are used at least somewhat frequently is politics. Immediately we can see how important this is to the public interest. Politicians are making decisions that affect our daily lives.
Some very important information has been leaked (a good amount intentionally) by all U.S. administrations. When the best papers use anonymous sources in federal politics we tend to assume a couple things: 1) the public will be able to
verify whether the information was wrong or right and will seek answers-- given that administrations have their own means of messaging the news organization will be swiftly made to look sloppy if they are incorrect, 2) they will invariably be criticized for using anonymous
sources so they better have a good reason for doing so, 3) there was a lot of work put in by the reporter in cultivating the source, verifying facts, etc. And even with all of these protections anonymous sources (like all sources) can sometimes lead the journalist completely
astray and leave the news organization with egg on its face. The NYT is no stranger to this. Leaks are not used to get us inside information on the president and first lady. The public understands and demands that these public servants deserve some privacy and unless their
private behavior if somehow impacting how they are carrying out their duties, such information is not worth reporting. Now if we're talking gossip publications all bets are off. Gossipers may or may not have a code depending on the market and their own consciences. All of this to
say, that for some pseudo-journalists to have had the nerve to countenance to imply that they were using anonymous sources because they were upholding principles of ethical journalism is disingenuous, glib, and dangerous. There was absolutely no
reason we needed to know any of that information about the Sussexes. What Prince Harry said on Nov 8, 2016 still stands: "This is not a game - it is her life and his."…
(I just wanted to credit @Khaleesi_Hodan for #myPalaceSource: amazing!)
And that is not just some empty compliment. Maybe without realizing it you guys gave some wonderful, biting satire. You can't collect it as a book or essay but it had shades of Swift and Upton Sinclair. And like all wonderful satire it went over the heads of many of the targets.
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