Apparently, I am not alone in being troubled by current large-media practices in reference to leaked material and unnamed sources. You can see what I had to say previously here and here, when I focused on the New York Times.
Now comes Slate’s Today’s Papers column to note some similar problems at the Washington Post (which in fact owns Slate, so bravo to Slate):
The Post‘s lead story on nonpirate Somali militants is an odd one, relying entirely on unnamed sources (two named sources are quoted indirectly) yet delivering none of the sensitive information that would seemingly justify anonymity. The gist is that nobody’s quite sure whether al-Shabab are terrorists or just plain nationalists, and the administration is reluctant to rush to judgment one way or the other. Legitimate lead-story material—or something of a beat-sweetener? Someone’s ego is being boosted by this last paragraph: “But many on the national security team insist that it is their caution and willingness to consider all aspects of the situation that differentiate them from the overly aggressive posture of the Bush administration that they say exacerbated the terrorist threat.”
These kinds of stories are far too important for these reporters to be left alone to their behind-the-screen dances with their sources. I hereby call for a commission to set some standards in these matters. Do I hear a second?