Glimpsing Journalism’s ‘Devouring Black Hole of Corruption’

A Tiny Revolution blogger Jonathan Schwarz (4/18/09) samples the response to Mike Allen of Politico‘s quote of “a former top official in the administration of President George W. Bush” calling the publishing of U.S. torture memos “damaging because these are techniques that work“:

This, from Andrew Sullivan, is a representative example of the reaction:

Allen is allowing a member of the administration that broke the Geneva Conventions and committed war crimes to attack the current president and claim, without any substantiation, that the torture worked. He then allows that “top official” to proclaim things that are at the very least highly questionable. What journalistic standard is Allen following in allowing such a person to speak anonymously?

But things get really interesting when, in Allen’s “attempt to explain his behavior,” he wound up “revealing the devouring black hole of corruption at the heart of Washington ‘journalism‘”:

While I was writing the piece, a very well-known former Bush administration official e-mailed some caustic criticism of Obamaâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s decision to release the memos. I asked the former official to be quoted by name, but this person refused, e-mailing: “Please use only on background.” I wasnâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢t surprised….

I figured that readers could decide whether the former Bush officialâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s comments sounded defensive or vindictive. And Politico readers arenâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢t so delicate that we have to deceptively pretend there’s no other side to a major issue.

Schwarz explains that what Allen is “accidentally telling us here” is “that the Bush official initiated the contact, and without Allen agreeing to any conditions. In other words–even if Allen believes there’s some value to printing unsubstantiated, blatantly self-serving assertions–he had absolutely no obligation to ask permission to quote the official, by name or otherwise. But since he’s a well-trained little lad, he did anyway.”