March 16, 2016

Would Jane Mayer Fail The New York Times’ New Anonymous Source Test?

Liberal author and New Yorker writer Jane Mayer’s attempted takedown of conservative donors and political activists, “Dark Money” has been feted by the left-of-center media without being sufficiently vetted.

While reviews in The Economist and The Washington Post have pointed out Mayer’s clear bias and personal animus toward her subjects, those who profess to be guardians of journalistic ethics have completely ignored her overreliance on anonymous sources.

Appearing recently on programs like “The View” and “Real Time With Bill Maher,” Mayer has been given carte blanche to repeat the sensationalistic claims in her book without revealing that many of her allegations are entirely the hearsay of unnamed individuals.

On Tuesday, Mayer published yet another hit piece on her favorite targets, Charles and David Koch, with the oh-so-journalist title, “Who Sponsored The Hate?” In a blatant display of circular sourcing, the piece relies heavily on her previous writings.

Mayer’s latest piece came on the very day The New York Times announced it was “cracking down” on anonymous sources, announcing a sweeping overhaul of its policies to “siginifcantly reduce” the use of unaccountable sources.

In a post by the Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan, she quotes an email sent by senior editors to the paper’s newsroom, saying, “readers question whether anonymity allows unnamed people to skew a story in favor of their own agenda” and noting that readers “routinely cite anonymous sources as one of their greatest concerns.”

In “Dark Money,” Jane Mayer relies exclusively on anonymous, and in many instances, obviously biased, sources for at least 17 of her most spurious claims against the characters of her targets.

In particular, the new Times policy, according to Sullivan, would make anonymous quotation “relatively rare” because anonymous quotations allow sources to express “their impression, their spin, their agenda” without accountability.

Of the 17 instances of anonymous sourcing in Mayer’s book, 12 included anonymous quotations.

Mayer must be thankful she works for the New Yorker, and not The New York Times, as it seems certain that her fast-and-loose use of anonymous sources wouldn’t pass muster.

View 17 examples of Mayer’s anonymous sources here: