Democracy Soup

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Mike Allen abuses anonymity to bash Obama over releasing torture memos to win the Media Putz

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Originally published on on April 23, 2009

Mike Allen

Anonymity should be sacred in journalism stories, given out only when absolutely necessary. But in the MSM, the standards for granting anonymity are so twisted that a pretzel would get dizzy just looking at it. There is the video from Sacramento where a local TV station granted anonymity to parents who ratted out a cheerleader coach and got her fired.

That example is bad enough, but when anonymity is granted in a political context to allow someone to attack without retribution, they end up here on the Media Putz list.

You might not know who Mike Allen is, but you certainly know where he works: Politico. Allen wrote a story on Obama’s consultations before releasing the torture memos on April 16. Toward the bottom of the story, Allen lets loose with his anonymous source:

A former top official in the administration of President George W. Bush called the publication of the memos “unbelievable.”

“It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”

“I don’t believe Obama would intentionally endanger the nation, so it must be that he thinks either 1. the previous administration, including the CIA professionals who have defended this program, is lying about its importance and effectiveness, or 2. he believes we are no longer really at war and no longer face the kind of grave threat to our national security this program has protected against.”

This had to be anonymous? You have to be kidding.

Bush officials, on the record, have expressed distaste for Obama for throwing back the curtain on the proverbial Wizard of Oz. And the words fit a pattern — not that we’re saying the Anon was Dick Cheney — similar to what Cheney told Fox “News” this week. So it’s not like it was anything more than what we’ve heard from people on the record. But somehow Allen felt that what this person had to add was so valuable that the identity had to be hidden.

The great thing for Anon is that the blows can be more distasteful, more inaccurate without fear of being called out as being wrong and seriously misguided. The bogeyman, “ticking-time- bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake” is a subplot that even the writers of “24” would consider over the top. Even MacGruber would think it was lame.

If you are going to stand up and say that torture and violations of the Geneva Convention and U.S. law brought “success,” those are very serious charges. Doing so by hiding under the skirts of Allen and Politico is unacceptable.

The ever-diligent Glenn Greenwald points out that Allen received the comments without them being noted that they were off the record. So they could have been used on the record. But Allen chose to ask this person to have the name on the record. The person said no. That should have been the end of the conversation.

But because they were sent to Allen, somehow Allen felt compelled to use them, as if the source put pressure on Allen to use the material. But unlike most Media Putz winners, we actually have some insight into why his decisions were made. The hornet’s nest that started from his original piece compelled Allen to write a story behind the story because as the headline warrants, “The left erupts.”

So at the bottom of the Axelrod story, I tacked on an ellipsized excerpt of the former Bush official’s quotes, removing several ad hominem attacks on Obama. I quoted less than half of the comment and took out the most incendiary parts — a way to hint at the opposing view without giving an anonymous source free rein.

So as horrible as what was published, the original e-mail was worse, much worse. And as for free rein, his source was much freer than even the most free range chicken.

We have seen countless times in the media where Bush people, and Republicans in general, get protected as anonymous sources. It’s all part of the protection game, where Washington Beltway Journalists protect people so that can gain more insight — and feel more powerful — which they then blow on writing more stories where anonymity is granted.

When these journalists are seen as more concerned about protecting the game than in uncovering the truth, they give a black eye to the profession, and let us down as news consumers. Mike Allen may be one small cog in the process, but this week, he did just enough to earn the Media Putz of the week.


Written by democracysoup

April 23, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

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