Legacy Media and Bloggers Alike: Why it’s Important to Expose Sources Who Lie to You

Glenn Greenwald writes about the revelation in David Brooks’ column today, to the effect that anonymous administration sources told him they were committed to reducing Social Security benefits. Funny that, because Ezra Klein’s anonymous administration sources told him they had no intention of doing so:

Those unnamed Obama officials all called Brooks in order to refute his column from last week which argued "that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous." Brooks — like Klein — granted anonymity to and then proceeded to quote all four "senior members of the Obama administration" (a) without explaining why he did so, (b) without describing efforts, if any, to persuade them to use their names and (c) without providing any information about who they are or what their motives might be (all flagrant violations of the supposed NYT policy governing the use of anonymity).

Steve Greenhouse in the NYT confirms that Bobo, not Ezra, got the truth: "Unions also played a role in persuading the president to delay revamping Social Security and possibly making benefits less generous." Cutting benefits, as I reported in early February, was definitely on the table. After being assured by his White House sources, Ezra — with a credibility assist from official sources — dismissed that as "fear mongering." Yet we were the only public face of a larger, behind-the-scenes effort on the part of health care advocates (including unions) to scrap these plans.

Those efforts were successful — but I want to point out a few implications of what happened. Ezra’s sources lied to him, but they lied for a reason, namely to discredit valid and legitimate reporting, and neutralize opposition. Digby and Kagro sounded the early warning bells, as did Chris Bowers and Mike Lux, and many of us worked together to publicly raise a really serious red flag well before traditional media reported it (and to anyone who linked and helped spread the word, many thanks). We also helped stop billionaire anti-Social Security fetishist Pete Peterson from giving the keynote address at the fiscal responsibility summit (something "anonymous administration sources" denied to Greg Sargent, but which Rob Kuttner confirmed in the Washington Post).

So, here’s the rub: Ezra, I’m sure, was well intentioned in reporting what he did, but he got punk’d. His sources hid behind anonymity they wanted for no other reason than to lie to him without fear of repercussion, and they did so in order to discredit valid reporting that had political implications they did not want to suffer. People who expressed legitimate concern were dismissed as "hysterical" in order to neutralize opposition.

Because Ezra allowed them to go nameless, he bears the burden for the misinformation. His credibility takes the hit, not theirs. And they’ll go on to do the same thing again with other reporters anxious for access, because there is no price. Fortunately enough heat was generated to keep them from going forward with their plans, but not because they didn’t try to kill it.

If you grant anonymity to someone, and it becomes evident that they have lied to you, they need to be exposed. It’s the appropriate corrective in the situation. Ezra needs to publicly name the person who set him up.

Update: Ezra requests that his original post that Glenn links to be directly linked here.  

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