Media & PR

Dominic Cummings and the problem with anonymous sources

WhatsApp on a smartphone

Image by Webster2703 from Pixabay.

Today’s Downing Street statement about Dominic Cummings and his lockdown travel highlights, again, the danger with anonymous sources.

Last night an anonymous source was quoted with one defence of Cummings.

Today, Downing Street’s version of events contradicts that version of events.

So who the anonymous source was is crucial for all the rest of us to understand the story.

If, for example, as widely claimed the anonymous source was Dominic Cummings himself, then there’s a big story in Downing Street now contracting him. If it was an old friend of his, say, who didn’t really know that much about it all, then the contradiction doesn’t matter that much. All sorts of other permutations possible. It’s all a mess for us, the audience.

Which is why journalists should be super-careful in the case of a possible scandal when allowing a defence to be given via unspecific, anonymised tags such as “friends of” or “a source close to”.

Anonymous sources definitely have their place, especially for investigative journalism holding the powerful to account.

But anonymous sources that let the powerful hide from having to give their own version of events? Not quite so desirable.

More on all that, of course, in Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us.

 

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