Spinonymous: Chicago Tribune inexplicably provides "senior McCain adviser" anonymity to attack Obama

››› ››› MORGAN WEILAND

A Chicago Tribune article uncritically and repeatedly quoted a "senior McCain adviser" attacking Sen. Barack Obama and asserted that the adviser "spoke on condition that he not be identified in order to discuss strategy." But the authors gave no explanation of why they would agree to anonymity for a source who proceeded to attack and to foreshadow further attacks on the opposing candidate.

In an August 22 Chicago Tribune article, correspondents John McCormick and Jill Zuckman uncritically and repeatedly quoted a "senior McCain adviser" attacking Sen. Barack Obama and asserted that the adviser "spoke on condition that he not be identified in order to discuss strategy." The article quoted the anonymous source stating: "The Barack Obama of hope and change and new politics is now running his campaign based on who owns the most houses. ... This is the venomous, nasty Barack Obama the country is seeing." But the authors gave no explanation of why they would agree to anonymity for a source who proceeded to attack and to foreshadow further attacks on the opposing candidate.

In a February 14 Chicago Tribune article (accessed via the Nexis database), reporters Jodi S. Cohen and Tara Malone wrote of the Tribune's policy on anonymous sourcing: "The Tribune 'discourages' the use of unnamed sources, according to the newspaper's stylebook, with exceptions made to protect the safety of a source or other extenuating circumstances." McCormick and Zuckman gave no indication that the grant of anonymity might be necessary "to protect the safety of a source," and they discussed no "other extenuating circumstances."

In a June 27 column, Chicago Tribune public editor Timothy J. McNulty wrote: "There are plenty of good reasons, of course, that reporters are willing to trade the truth in exchange for not naming the source of the information. Some sources may fear criticism; others face retaliation and even physical danger for speaking out. Anonymity is a shield to protect them." McCormick and Zuckman gave no indication that the source feared criticism or retaliation for talking to them about what the source reportedly said were the McCain campaign's planned attacks against Obama.

From the February 14 Tribune article:

U.S. newspapers have varying policies on anonymous sources.

The Tribune "discourages" the use of unnamed sources, according to the newspaper's stylebook, with exceptions made to protect the safety of a source or other extenuating circumstances.

"The Tribune will not print anonymously sourced material that adds only supplemental or trivial material to stories, such as a zippy but unattributed quote that might enliven a prosaic narrative but that also might lead the reader to wonder about the validity of the material," reads one part of the stylebook's discussion of the topic.

In the August 22 Tribune article, McCormick and Zuckman wrote:

A senior McCain adviser said the attack provides license to raise more questions about Obama and his relationships with Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., [Antoin "Tony"] Rezko and William Ayers, a former '60s radical. A new television ad about Obama and Rezko was to start running Thursday night.

"Rev. Wright is in the game, in bounds," the adviser said. "We will educate the American people about Barack's judgment through his association with Rev. Wright. It won't be this week. It won't be next week."

The source insisted Obama made a mistake in trying to question McCain's wealth. He spoke on condition that he not be identified in order to discuss strategy.

"The Barack Obama of hope and change and new politics is now running his campaign based on who owns the most houses," he said. "This is the venomous, nasty Barack Obama the country is seeing. They're looking at the polls and they're just panicking."

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
Chicago Tribune
Stories/Interests
Media Ethics, Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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