Some Say


Journalists with secret sources a cornerstone of our democracy eh? Not so sure. Oh, I know that “I will never reveal the names of my sources” is the Hippocratic Oath of Journalism. And yes, yes, I know all about Watergate. But still, surprisingly, I have me doubts.

Seems hardly an Australian media political story these days, and reflected from there into Twitter, which doesn’t include “senior government sources” “senior ministers” “a number of backbenchers” “Labor insiders” “political observers” “a former power broker”, down to that deepest of Deep Throats the ubiquitous “Some” who frequently appears “saying” things, as a source of stories inevitably damaging to the government.

Now journalists defend this anonymity by arguing that it is an essential part of their trade to protect identity of sources otherwise no whistleblower would ever come forward. In this narrative (for it is just a narrative like all journalism these days) these intrepid journalists find honest insiders willing to lift the lid on some terrible political wrong-doing hidden behind closed doors, and the public must be kept informed.

But it is impossible to think of such a story in recent years. Instead the “whistle blowing” the “leaks from insiders” all have a single theme and purpose – to “reveal” and exacerbate whatever personal tensions exist within the Labor government. Either because it suits the agenda of a media proprietor, or of the Opposition, or of someone who wants to retrieve a Field Marshall’s baton from a knapsack in which, they believe, it was prematurely stored.

That is, this kind of Leak Journalism is not aimed at the public interest but at private interests in the Great Game of politics. The identity of informants, where they do actually exist (and I suggest some are, like the dead body in World War 2 Operation Mincemeat, not real people at all) , is not being protected because of the value of their information to the public, but to hide the nasty political games they are actually playing.

What’s more their anonymity has become a way of journalists inflating the apparent value of sources, of effortlessly increasing them in both numbers and rank to give a totally false impression of the meaning of a story. Pretending that the journalist has 50 whistleblowers, instead of one whistleblower 50 times. And a way of hiding secret agendas, political and business. And of disguising the informant who is a member of a think tanks, pushing a nasty neoconservative economic agenda on behalf of paymasters. And of pretending that “inside information” from the Labor Party isn’t in fact coming from a cunning Liberal troublemaker. And so on.

The media has been completely happy with fake whistleblowers, helping them, for example, to churn out endless fake “Rudd challenge” stories with no more effort than pushing a programmed function key on a keyboard. But the media have treated with contempt those ultimate real whistleblowers Assange and Manning. Their stories needed investigation, work, writing, and, more scarily, would actually involve speaking truth to power. A function once primary for journalists but no longer.

Anyway, think it is time for a change to this “secret informant” business. Some say all informants’ identities should be made public, in the interests of transparency, unless there is an extremely good reason for not doing so.

What do you say?

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10 comments on “Some Say

  1. Iain Davidson says:

    I’m involved in a discussion elsewhere about plagiarism, in light of Jane Goodall’s fall from grace. In publishing other than journalism you cannot quote anyone whose original words cannot be checked. In an increasingly desperate journalism, the sensation provided by anonymous “sources” has enabled the media to run with stories designed to sell newspapers not to inform. Well skewered.
    Can Watermelons skewer? Lemongrass, yes, but watermelons?


  2. Terry Mcconville says:

    Again you have hit the nail on the head. I thing the journo’s make most of it up.


  3. Eric Snyder says:

    You’re absolutely correct David, informant’s identities should (in most cases) be made known. It’s always a good indicator to me, when the source of any information is obscured from serious fact checking, that the story is immediately suspect.

    But, this is what happens when character doesn’t matter. People (journo’s included)say & do what furthers their agenda with deceit, subterfuge and outright lying. A sad state of affairs!


  4. Joy Cooper says:

    This is on a par with stupid Christopher Pyne making the outrageous claim that unnamed Labor MPs had been texting him saying they still wanted Rudd as PM. As if.

    Indeed had this happened he would have shouted their names from the rooftops & I seriously doubt any Labor MPs would even have his mobile number let alone text him. Why would they send texts to a Lib blabbermouth like Pyne instead of speaking “off the record” to a journo panting for a “source” to speak to them?

    Yes, I agree so-called sources should be agreeable, except in dangerous circumstances, to have their names used. The use of anonymous sources should end as it is open to the possibility of misuse, lies & phony quotes.


    • Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle) says:

      My thoughts entirely Joy. Pyne is an absolute idiot if he thinks that we believe that Labor MPs (apart from perhaps Rudd) would text him. Someone is obviously playing with him, probably Julie Bishop.
      It would be great if we could have some transparency in all walks of life, not only government. My policy in life is ‘honesty is the best policy’ and has worked well throughout my long life.


  5. Keith Woolsey says:

    Same has been playing on my mind lately. Seems there are more “sources” than pollies and “insiders”


  6. [...] story was originally published on David Horton’s Watermelon Blog and has been republished with permission. You can follow [...]


  7. paul walter says:

    I like the thing on Micallef with the split-screen, where five smug, self satisfied journalists answer in unison, a torrent of ingratiating, formulaic, self serving and self promoting bilge when questioned by the host on a given story.


  8. Buff McMenis says:

    What do I say??? Word for word what you said, David .. :-)


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