Dear anonymous sources,
I must confess, you’re helping the mainstream media create some gripping and troubling content.
The list goes on and on. You’ve been leaking relentlessly since the very first days of Trump’s presidency, making the president look like a “clueless child,” as the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza put it. Political Twitter amplifies your voice, with countless concerned citizens retweeting the stories you helped create, appending dire worries that “we’re all going to die.”
You’re helping build and sustain an atmosphere of national anxiety and even (in some quarters) outright hysteria. You’re leading us to believe that the nation is in the very worst of hands, with incompetent and malicious people at the helm, ready or even eager to plunge the nation into new wars and completely unable to handle new crises as they emerge.
Then again, you may well be wrong. You’ve led us astray more than once. You’ve offered competing and incompatible stories about the allegedly “botched” special-forces raid in Yemen. A Washington Post blow-by-blow detailing an alleged confrontation between the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, and Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon had to be significantly revised. And let’s not forget that one or more of you leaked an “excerpt” of a transcript of Trump’s call with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto that made it appear that Trump had threatened to invade Mexico, after which American and Mexican officials alike denied that any such threats were made.
Simply put, I don’t trust you, and you haven’t given me any reason to change my mind.
Simply put, I don’t trust you, and you haven’t given me any reason to change my mind. Because you won’t go on the record, we’re left with vague descriptions from reporters. You’re supposedly “familiar with” the matter. What does that mean, exactly? Some of you have allegedly spoken with the president. Some of you have spoken with those who’ve spoken with the president. How far down the game of “telephone” are you? Can we truly believe your claims?
I’ve used anonymous sources before, but in a context where I could verify core claims by reference to other, external facts. And I know that anonymous sourcing can be an indispensable aspect of journalism. But let’s be honest, this is getting out of hand.
We keep hearing that Trump is a unique threat, that he’s violating the “norms” of constitutional governance and driving our republic straight toward the cliff of autocracy and conflict. But if this is the case, why aren’t you speaking out on the record so that we can evaluate your credibility and motivations? Why is the “fear of reprisals” (to quote one New York Times story) driving you so far underground?
Are you worried that Trump might fire you? If you actually do know what you’re talking about and have truly valuable insight, you’d be unemployed just long enough to appear on Meet the Press and ink a book deal.
Given the gravity of the accusations, your continued anonymity tells me nothing good. The “career civil servants” among you may be little more than partisan bureaucrats, using hyperbole to fool gullible reporters. The aides and appointees may be mainly jockeying for advantage, hoping to humiliate opponents to gain their own seat at the table. Or, if you’re right, and this president truly is dangerous, your anonymity raises concerns about your courage. Men and women have died for this nation, and you’re not willing to risk your GS rating to save it from incompetence or authoritarianism?
One of the reasons why the public has lost trust in the so-called elite is that it often appears that they’re far more interested in protecting their own careers than in serving the public. Using the press to fight your bureaucratic wars does nothing to dispel that perception. If you believe this president is a menace, go on the record. Give the public a chance to test your credibility. If airing the truth is that important to you, it’s the least you can do.
— David French is a staff writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.