Anonymous sources and ‘Experts’

Back in the 1980s when I was in journalism school, we were taught that there were rules and limits to using anonymous sources. If you wished to use an anonymous source in your story, you had to be able to justify the need for it to your editors. What was so sensitive about this topic that your source needed to not be identified? While anonymity might be occasionally necessary, we were reminded that the use of anonymous sources, especially on a regular basis,  undermined the credibility of the writer and  created doubt in the readers’ minds.

How times have changed. With the exception of the White House press briefing, and a few other official conferences where a spokesperson will give an official statement, information is now given piecemeal through leaks and ‘sources.’ Almost all political writing done now in the mainstream media relies exclusively on anonymous sources. The phrase, ‘according to a source’ has become so commonplace, it is not ever questioned. ‘According to a high-level source’ is even more common. Pick up The Washington Post  or New York Times  and read a front page story on some important government issue, and you will  read 30 or 40 paragraphs without a single named source. What’s more, no apology or explanation is given for why nobody wants to speak on the record. And this goes for the seemingly non-controversial issues as well as the scandals. Nobody speaks on record anymore. It’s become an accepted, and acceptable, cozy little routine  between the government and these news organizations whereby all news is disseminated through leaks and anonymous sources. It is, for all thinking persons, a joke. Who would ever believe a word these people say? ‘

Soon after the widespread use of anonymous sources became prevalent in the national media, another phenomenon started to become apparent: the rise of the experts. Now, there is nothing wrong with consulting someone who has expertise in the field about which you writing. But what we witness today in the mainstream media has nothing to do with educating people by bringing in academics and scientists with expertise. No. This is all about lazy reporting and propaganda.

Most news organizations, whether in print, radio, or television,  pay their reporters very little money. In fact, many reporters could earn as much money working at McDonalds. Hence, they have little motivation to do serious research and collect data. The easy and efficient way to do a story is to simply pick up the phone, schedule an interview with someone whom they can refer to as  an ‘expert’, collect a few quotes, and write the story. The reporter is happy, the editor is happy, nobody questions anything and the machine rolls on.


The other use of these so-called ‘experts’ is far more sinister than simple reporter laziness and organizational penny pinching. These academic and corporate whores are brought onto a news program or quoted in stories  to lend credence to  whatever the parent company is trying to sell, whether it is man-made global warming, the wonderful benefits of flouride in the water supply, or the safety of GMOs. Whenever you see a news program bring on an ‘expert’, run for the hills. You KNOW you are being sold something. I knew this trend was heading for a nadir when I turned on the television one day many years ago to see an interview with someone who called himself ‘a relationship expert.’ I thought, “you must be kidding.” Does one go to Harvard these days to get a degree in ‘relationships.’ ?? What a joke. And the grinning talking heads  just sat there and chatted with this dweeb with straight faces.

The GMO- defending Dr. Oz


Finally, the real danger in constantly bringing on someone who claims  expertise for every news story is that this practice very subtly inculcates in the viewer’s mind that he is incapable of understanding anything that is being discussed about the world. Every subject, whether it relates to health, the environment, politics, science, relationships, or sports, requires someone in a suit to explain things to the dumb sheep. It’s insulting. Everything must be watered down and broken into digestible bite-sized pieces for the consumption of the ever passive consumer.  Let’s dump the experts, once and for all.


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