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, inĀ Bad News: what the headlines don’t tell us.


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3 responses to “Dominic Cummings and the problem with anonymous sources”

  1. Regardless of the guidelines (?force of law), no parent will disagree with the commonsense displayed by the Cummings Family. Bad luck they had to go 260 miles. If the journey had been ten miles wd anyone have got out of bed (except the usual claque….)?

    • The clear advice was that if one member of the family is ill then they should isolate within the household. This guy expected that he was going to be ill soon, so they decided to lock their kid in a car with two infectious people for more than 4 hours. Not only did they enhance the chance that a child would get sick, this guy knew that he could start to get symptoms on the way. If he got ill on the way would it be safe (legal) to continue to drive or should they stop and get help?
      If they were desperate they could have asked a family member to come and pick up the kid. They could have asked for support from the local NHS volunteer scheme. Maybe he could have asked someone on the SAGE committee he had been in. He could even has asked his employers for a bit of advice and support.
      Nope – he decides to transport the virus more than 250 miles from London, putting others (including his own kid) at risk. Might be forgivable for some bloke that works down at the supermarket who got desperate and went your 10 miles, but this was Mr D Cummings – a key part of the government response to Covid19 – responsible in large part for the governments position and advice on all this including the “stay at home … save lives” part.

  2. On a 260-mile journey with a small child, how many stops did the family have to make – and how many people did they cross-infect as they used the facilities?

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