Letter To The Editor: The Ethics Of Anonymous Sources

To the editor:

Anonymous sources in news reporting are a tool of last resort, used only when illuminating information cannot be gleaned from on-the-record reporting. Such sources should be used only after a journalist has made an assessment of the credibility of the information through additional reporting; even if the information is not established as certain, it should at least be deemed to have enough substance to print. When an anonymous quote disparages a person or institution, it must first be established that the statement has merit, and the subject must be given an opportunity to respond. TSL has unfortunately flouted these standards in at least two recent stories. An April 6 story on security at CMC quotes an unnamed source as saying new security staff at CMC would “add to a sense of campus militarization and is likely to make some students feel unsafe.” This anonymous quote was a baseless allegation made without accountability. More disturbing was a March 30 story about the departure of Consortium Vice President Denise Hayes. That article quoted allegations of religious discrimination by Hayes from an anonymous email, again with no factual basis. The use of an anonymous source in the April 6 security story was disappointing. In the March 30 story on Denise Hayes, the journalistic malpractice was disgraceful.

Peter Hong

Hong spent 20 years as a journalist with ABC News, BusinessWeek Magazine, The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. He is Associate Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications at Claremont McKenna College.