Against Anonymous Sourcing

Here's a piece that will get you flunked out J-school. Robin Givhan barks at Desiree Rogers like she stole something--namely, her man--and makes the case for utter overuse of anonymous sourcing or, in some cases, no sourcing at all:

The 50-year-old Rogers arrived in Washington this year to great fanfare, no small amount of it of her own making. She entered the East Wing in a whirlwind of media exposure. She was featured in the glossy pages of Vogue -- beating the first lady's appearance in the fashion bible by a month. For a profile in WSJ, the Wall Street Journal's slick magazine, stylists outfitted Rogers in luxury fashions from Prada and Jil Sander and she posed in the first lady's garden tossing a flirtatious smile over her shoulder.

Early in her tenure, Rogers made a trip to New York City during February's fashion week. She sat in the front row of runway shows such as Donna Karan and smiled for the flock of photographers who descended on the striking Obama gatekeeper with her pixie cut, stylish wardrobe and high-altitude heels. She dabbled in a world of hipsters and art scene know-it-alls in her attempt to bring a contemporary gleam to the White House. And she seemed to thrive on all the attention. She has come across as a big-picture manager, not one focused on details.

That's in contrast to her reputation at Peoples Energy. There, says her former boss Thomas Patrick, she was so intent on learning the customer relations business from the ground up that she put on a hard hat and went out into the field with the workers who managed the pipes.

None of this was surprising to longtime friends who knew her from her Chicago days, when she was a mover and shaker in the city's high-culture society circles, and who worried that Rogers was putting herself out in front of the public too fast and too furiously. They warned her of the ways of Washington, its desire for discretion, and urged to keep her profile low. In the nation's capital, no one need know whether the social secretary wore Nina Ricci or Halston, just that she was appropriately clothed.

I'd argue that in the nation's capital, most people don't know it. Moreover, not a single one of these "friends" is named. The only actual person named, contradicts the main narrative. I realize that this is a story about the "social secretary" and not an investigation of loose nukes--but that only makes the point. If you're not quoting people who have something to lose--friendship and social standing do not count-- you need to get these people on the record. Otherwise, you're just gossiping.

There's a legitimate news question here--Did Rogers screw up at her job? But the answer to that isn't "she dresses too nice" or "she was photographed by Vogue." I'd be more forgiving if it were the Enquirer. But it's the Washington Post. And I'm one of those people who still believes in some kind of trust between the reader and the writer. There's absolutely nothing to prevent Robin Givhan from lying about Rogers' anonymous "friends."