Comments on anonymous sources considering the articles “Pakistan said re-thinking US F-16 deal” by Carol Giacomo for Reuters, October 25, 2005 and “Assad says accused Syrians may face trial” by Anthony Shadid for the Washington Post, October 26, 2005.
Both of these articles use anonymous sources. However, they differ on the extent to which their stories rely on that source. The second article, by Shadid, is about Syrian President Assad’s letter to the U.S. (and others) in response to the U.N.’s investigation on former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination. The main source in Shadid’s article is the letter sent by Assad. In addition, his sources include an identified U.S.
State Department spokesman and an unidentified diplomat from Damascus. The diplomat’s anonymity is justifiable, considering both the ongoing investigation and possible consequences from the Syrian government. While his/her comments add to the article, the article does not depend on it for critical information.
On the other hand, the first article, by Giacomo, does not identify any of their main sources. Giacomo relies on two anonymous sources, a Pakistani diplomat and a U.S. official (from an unspecified department) for her story. The only identified source is the U.S. India Political Action Committee who made a group statement concerning the need for Pakistan to concentrate on earthquake relief “rather than the sale of arms”. This article’s use of anonymous sources differs greatly from Shadid’s in the way Giacomo relies heavily on multiple anonymous sources; there are too many motives to question. Also, it is hard for me to see why these sources would need to remain anonymous.
Another interesting use of anonymous sources came from a Knight Ridder publication. I could not find the specific story that used the source, but it was a source who gave no comment but only on the condition that they remain anonymous. I learned this from a C-SPAN broadcast, “Symposium on Examining Opinion and Bias in the News”. You can click this link, and then click on the title to see the footage. You can find the quote at about 30 seconds.