Politico’s Martin defends use of unnamed sources: ‘If you don’t want to read Politico, that’s fine’

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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The use of unnamed sources in political news stories has always been a touchy subject, but Politico has found a solution for readers who want more accountability than anonymity can provide: stop reading Politico.

On Sunday’s broadcast of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Politico reporter Jonathan Martin explained the justification for citing in a recent story unnamed Republican operatives who were supposedly unhappy with Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate.

“We were candid about the sourcing on that, as you mentioned, Howie, and basically say to our readers, ‘Look, folks don’t want to put their names [on] the charges,’” Martin said. “If you don’t want to read Politico, that’s fine. But that is a conversation happening in the political community. We as reporter want to capture that conversation. The challenge for us is trying to do so in a way that you can get it in print, but you respect people who don’t want to have their names used, it’s a question of do you not report what’s happening right now in the political operative community or do it in a way that you have to do a lot of blind quotes? We choose the chose the latter, because it’s such a hot issue going on right now.”

Steve Roberts, a George Washington University professor, said he had a problem with that style of reporting, which he said was exemplified by a 2011 Politico story involving allegations of sexual harassment against then-presidential candidate Herman Cain.

“I do have a problem with that,” Roberts said. “Because, you go back to the Politico stories about Herman Cain, [they] were a very good example of a lot of blind quotes that were not backed up with sources, specific sources. And I understand the point. You want to get into the paper the buzz.”

Martin countered that the allegations proved credible in the long run. Roberts wasn’t convinced.

“Yeah, eventually — eventually, but not on the day it came out,” Roberts said. “I do have a problem with stories like this that have unnamed sources. I gave that Politico story to my ethics class, and they gave it about a ‘D.’”

But the Cain story gave women the courage to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment at the hand of the former pizza executive, according to Martin.

“Well, he eventually dropped out of the race — that was actually my story,” Martin replied. “He dropped out the race eventually, and multiple women came forward and said he sexually harassed them. And look, that’s a different story entirely from Republican operatives grumbling about the ticket.”

“Put names on it,” Roberts replied.

“We’d love to put names on it, but it’s not always an option nowadays because the operatives don’t want to be seen as criticizing their party’s nominee,” Martin answered. “It’s the world we’re in now. I wish it was different, but it’s not.”

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