Anonymous sources and ‘Woman A’

NPR and other news organizations have now identified “Woman A” in the Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal.

(Karen) Kraushaar, 55, a career federal employee and registered Republican, currently works as a communications director at the U.S. Treasury Department.

The release of her name also came after the restaurant association, acting on a request by Kraushaar’s lawyer, Joel Bennett, freed her last week from a confidentiality agreement signed when she settled her harassment case against Cain and left the association with a cash payment in June 1999. Bennett on Friday read a statement on behalf of Kraushaar, who alleged the incidents involving Cain were “a series of inappropriate behaviors and unwanted advances from the CEO.”

Journalist Dan Gillmor has long maintained that using anonymous sources hurts the credibility of news organizations:

Whether the reporters and editors who so casually violate their institutions’ rules are simply arrogant and/or lazy, or whether they genuinely believe they’re providing information that readers need to know, they’re undermining the credibility of their news organizations almost every time they do this. In reality, whether they understand it or not, they betray contempt for their readers, not respect.

As a reader, I’ve trained myself to treat anonymously sourced stories with the most extreme skepticism. Unless I can infer a truly compelling reason for the anonymity, I now actively disbelieve — or, at best, assume a sleazy motive on the part of the source — what I read in these circumstances.

The question of whether anonymity should be extended to people in a news story is not without the occasional flash of comedic irony. Take this paragraph from Michael Calderone’s recent article on Huffington Post.:

“There’s no journalistic reason not to name them,” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I think it comes down to a very simple equation: If you name them, the likelihood of your news organization interviewing them probably goes down to zero.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    As reprehensible as it is, what’s more disturbing than Cain’s behavior is the fact that it hasn’t significantly affected his standing in the polls.

    Ah, the family values republican voters.

  • Bob Collins

    The polls mean nothing. People who are answering them are often flipping off the media, basically answering a question that isn’t being asked.

    Citing polls at this point in the election cycle is like citing the number of search returns for Google as indication of a subject’s validity.

    They’re irrelevant.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – thanks for the knowledgeable perspective.

    I hope your’e right.

  • jon

    Poll numbers always mean exactly as much as people perceive them to mean.

    The media give attention to those at the top of the polls, the people who are being polled give names they’ve heard in the media.

    And Round and Round it goes… until people stop talking about Cain he’ll probably keep polling well.

  • Bob Collins

    Not to mention the fact that we poll top of the ticket as a popular vote. We don’t elect presidents that way so what value is a poll like that anyway?