I've got a plan to bust the background briefing racket. Of the many ways that modern journalists cede power to authority, none is easier to fix than the notion that government officials are allowed to gather several reporters in a room or on a conference call, spew their clever lines of lies and spin, and declare it all "on background"—shielded from accountability "on condition of anonymity."
Reporters are increasingly allowing public relations teams to set the terms for coverage of politics, business, sports, and even entertainment. It's a troubling trend for an industry in flux. But the media in Washington are the most unnecessarily and dangerously cowed.
When reporters call the shots, anonymous sources are vital to uncovering government secrets and wrongdoing (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used Mark Felt and other whistleblowers to chase Richard Nixon out of office). When government officials call the shots, there is no incentive to tell the truth, no punishment for deception, and the journalism itself is diminished by canned news.
In rare cases, approved in advance by journalists, an anonymous source talking to a bunch of reporters might serve a public service. For instance, security details for a presidential trip to a war zone may need to be shared privately with the traveling media corps. Most editors would consider that a good case for a briefing that shields the identity of the government officials and embargoes news of the trip itself.