For this week’s analysis, I rummaged through several articles from a variety of sources before landing on an interesting investigation led by iMediaEthics’ editor-in-chief Rhonda Roland Shearer on the media’s coverage of Egypt. You can find her investigation here.
What I found most intriguing was the article entitled, “NY Times Never Called Me! Anonymous Sources, Fact Check Failures Rule in Egypt, Analysis reveals.” Shearer reports that The New York Times reporting out of Egypt has used several unnamed sources. According to Shearer, many of these anonymous sources are more than just unnamed but unverified. She says many of the sources were never even interviewed. iMediaEthics links to a variety of articles like this one which contain sources who were not even contacted. The investigation contains emails, infographics and a bullet point analysis of the information covered. It’s quite extensive and a little alarming.
While anonymous sources are surely useful and sometimes required, they should definitely exist. There is no integrity or fairness in naming individuals who have not been interviewed. The Associated Press requires that anonymous sources can only be used if: “1. The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report. 2. The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source. 3. The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.” The guidelines further elaborate on the practices of including an anonymous source by requiring there be attribution and the reason why the source wanted to be left nameless.
To think that it is possible that The New York Times could essentially fake anonymous sources is crazy and unthinkable. Now, if this is completely true and accurate, then it definitely bends to one extreme. It would appear that the care towards verifying and truly interviewing sources was not there, which seems wrong because in the end – how accurate is that information and where did it come from?
Applying the golden mean form of ethics would mean to avoid the extremes, to avoid the excess. This might be an example of being too rash and thinking that no one would question the sources or legitimacy of the material. Maybe it’s an example of too much pride, but whatever the case may be it definitely borders on questionable. Who knows what the reasons may have been, maybe there are reasons but if there were any then they should have been included and explained.