Via Glenn Greenwald’s Twitter feed, check out this astonishing bit of anonymous sourcing by the Politico’s Ben Smith:
The White House is denying that the president bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a G-20 meeting in London, a scene that drew criticism on the right and praise from some Arab outlets.
“It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
This is ridiculous to the point of parody. There are occasions when anonymous sources are necessary—for the most part, when you have a source who’s providing information about some sort of malfeasance who credibly fears repercussions for passing on what he knows.
This was nothing like that. This was an Obama aide using the cloak of anonymity to make a self-serving, overtly political, patently ridiculous argument he’d never have the guts to make under his own name. Smith and Politico should have laughed this aide off the phone.
Unfortunately, this has become fairly common with Washington journalists. Political reporters crave access. Political operatives know it, and dish it out accordingly. They can dump this crap to a half dozen reporters, then reward those who do them the favor of publishing it with exclusive interviews, a question at the next press conference, or a leaked scoop on some big announcement. The vast majority of the anonymous sourcing you see in Beltway beat stories today has zero to do with whistle blowing. It’s just self-serving flackery.
That doesn’t mean you have to let yourself be used like this, though. Hope Smith at least feels a little dirty.