On Condition of Anonymity

"Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement … of the source … When possible … articles should tersely explain what kind of understanding was actually reached by reporter and source, and should shed light on the reasons and the source's motives." —from The New York Times's revised policy on confidential news sources, effective March 1, 2004

Some actual examples from the Times so far:

One New School board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he did not want to get on the wrong side of Mr. Kerrey, expressed displeasure with his public musings, saying they risked putting the school on the wrong side of whoever wins City Hall. —"Kerrey Decides Against a Run for City Hall," April 20, 2005

A person who spoke to Tony Womack recently said that while Womack was frustrated with his new role, he had not asked for a trade and had no plans to. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want the issue to distract Womack, who has 4 hits in his last 36 at-bats and has lost his second-base job. —"Yankees Search for the Team's Soul as the Foundation Begins to Crumble," June 14, 2005

And some examples we may soon see:

The documents were provided by a Democrat close to the negotiations, who said that she would "go berserk" if she had to spend another sunny day sitting in a windowless room in the Capitol arguing over budget projections with "doofus Republicans." —"Congressional Negotiations Go Up in Smoke," December 1, 2005

"Things have gotten so bad around here that a corporate retreat now refers to hoisting a white flag and running like hell," said a well-placed executive with the troubled company. The executive, who denied that he harbored any resentment about being passed over for promotion, drank four gin-and-tonics during a lunch with this reporter. —"Blue-Chip Stock Falls 80%," January 15, 2006

"The second-term doldrums have really set in," said a White House aide. "Karl Rove is wandering through the West Wing muttering, 'The end is nigh.'" The aide went on to explain that she was "going wildly off message" because she wanted to cultivate useful contacts in the media before leaving government to join a public-relations firm. —"Bush Approval Ratings Reach Negative Numbers; Pollsters at a Loss," February 4, 2006

"This university has the intellectual heft of tofu," said a tenured professor in the history department. "If the freshman class were any dumber, we'd have to teach remedial breathing." The professor acknowledged that he had been at odds with the president of the university since 1998, owing to an unrelated dispute over billing for photocopying charges. —"Yale Faculty Disparages Intellect of Student Body," March 1, 2006

"President Bush's visit to the NATO summit was a diplomatic disaster unequaled since Leonid Brezhnev used the wrong salad fork," commented a French diplomat. The diplomat did not want his name used, because his wife believes that he is in Uruguay engaged in protracted trade negotiations over Camembert quotas. —"Like Father, Like Son: Bush Vomits on European Minister," March 17, 2006

"The only way we can win this race is if the senator shoots down a Martian invasion force on election eve," said a campaign official who has seen the latest internal polls. "Even then it would be close." This staffer spoke on condition of anonymity, saying, "I know I'm crazy to tell you all this. But I love you, and I intend to prove it." This reporter responded by reading aloud from the newspaper's policy regarding unnamed sources. —"Challenger's Lead Widens Significantly," October 28, 2006

Walter Shapiro has covered politics for The Atlantic, Esquire, USA Today, and numerous other publications. While working for the Carter administration in the late 1970s, he periodically leaked information to a Wall Street Journal reporter in exchange for dating advice.
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