On ‘Trial Balloons’ and MSM’s ‘Veil of Anonymity’

Salon‘s Greenwald (6/27/09, ad-viewing required) has taken a hard look at Washington Post and ProPublica journalists Peter Finn’s and Dafna Linzer’s report–“relying exclusively on three Obama officials speaking behind a veil of anonymity”–“that the White House is ‘crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely.'” Finding it “revealing” that “the article quotes two Bush national security officials justifying the need for detention without charges,” Greenwald writes of how “anonymous trial balloon articles like this one are difficult to comment on because it’s obviously designed to announce that a certain policy is being considered before it’s actually written, and so none of the key details is known.” That said, he gives it a shot anyway:

This specific article is even worse than the usual one of its type, since it’s particularly uncritical in passing along administration claims without any skepticism…. Worse, the article does not provide any information about the Obama officials whose mission the reporters are dutifully carrying out, so there’s no way to assess their motives.

Those journalistic practices produce egregious sentences like this: “‘Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order,’ the official said.”

Greenwald would really “love to know which so-called ‘civil liberties groups’ are pushing the White House for an executive order establishing the power of indefinite detention,” telling us that “it’s certainly not the ACLU or Center for Constitutional Rights, both of which issued statements vehemently condemning the proposal.”