Death By Anonymity

In my company that is 27 years old, we had an employment attorney craft our personnel manual. Personnel issues are so intricate, so detailed, and thus relevant that I felt it was critical to get it right. We turned to a professional to do that. In that manual, I authored one section and one only: Conflict Resolution. The purpose of doing that was to assure every employee who had a conflict with any other person in the company had a way to achieve resolution.

The first such incident happened, and my “Conflict reasoning” kicked in. By regulation in the manual, the two went into a private office to confront each other regarding the conflict. If that was not successful, the two invited a supervisor into the meeting to attempt to achieve resolution. If that did not work, a senior member of management joined in for the ultimate decision. You know what? It worked! Here’s why:

Anytime two people have conflict, what should be the foremost matter is a resolution. Having a bunch of “he said, she said,” never does that. Face-to-face meetings between the two all the while knowing if they did NOT resolve the conflict, their knowing that a supervisor or manager would step in often instigates resolution by itself. The results have been useful and resourceful in every such incident in company history since. Why? Conflict Resolution was made most important by Senior Management from the beginning. Employees at every level know management cares. A comfort level prevented a caustic working environment for all those with personnel issues with others. But everyone knows when that happens, the process of a resolution will keep any negativity out of the workplace environment.

Wouldn’t that be a good policy for Washington D.C.?

Anonymity as a Weapon

“I can’t say who it was, but someone who knows told me that Robert still beats his wife.”

How many impactful decisions have happened in families, businesses, and politics based on similar statements? I would venture that number to be far more than most think. That’s a play on human nature. Unfortunately, most of us like a story from which we can ascertain our own truth. “My truth” and “Your truth” are the latest toys used in sharing information about conflicts. Those tools are killing communication in the U.S. The leaders of this movement seem to be leaders in American politics along with the Media. And their doing so appears to be a concerted effort to attack one’s opponents selectively. And the Mainstream media have perfected its usage. Sadly, it seems that everyone has entered the “Anonymity Attack” mode, including a star for conservative and right-leaning Fox News: Chris Wallace.

Fox’s Chris Wallace said a “well-connected” Washington Republican told him that there’s a 20 percent chance enough Republicans will vote to remove President Trump from office in an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Wallace mentioned his source’s comments during an interview with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on “Fox News Sunday.”

Wallace, whose father was a longtime star on the investigative show on ‘‘CBS: Sixty Minutes’ — formerly leaned left just a bit in the stories he covered on “Fox News Sunday.” But it seems that Wallace has taken a note from many of his news associates from other networks and is using the weaponized anonymity in his reporting.

Chris Wallace is in no way alone in this. For three years, Americans watched as President Trump was tried, convicted, and sentenced by the Media for everything from being a Russian agent to colluding with Ukraine to stealing chickens.

During those three years, it seemed that media outlets just doubled-down on what their compatriots and fellow news conspirators’ claims about Trump’s impeachable wrongdoing in their reporting. But in almost every such case and story — 95% plus — the sourcing for each was “an unnamed source” or “anonymous sources” or as in the case with Chris Wallace, “a well-connected” Washington Republican.

Do Americans feel that is right?

The Truth

Americans more than ever rely on the News Media to give us thorough but concise and accurate news about all those things of importance. Today more than ever, occurrences around the World are critical for Americans to know and understand. Truth in reporting is expected of news sources. But since those in news management learned of the ability for their organizations to impact ideas and subsequent decisions made by consumers about essential happenings, they have created a weaponized newsroom. When they staff their news producers, news directors, and even on-air reporters that are willing to “color” news stories sourcing and and then to report those stories as truthful and adequately sourced, truth is not mandatory. Upper management found this practice to be necessary and surprisingly successful. But the news itself has very little to do with their reasoning and justification for instituting this process.

It’s all about money!

As a college journalism major, I have not a single memory of a professor or associate conducting a class entitled “How to Get Along with Management.” There are numerous historical examples of instances in which outstanding reporters have gone public with news that was known to possibly shed a negative light on even their own news organization. But most often, the potential conflict for reporting these stories was because of personal or business relationships between their news bosses and persons or organizations on which these stories when told put forth a negative but truthful perspective.

Enter the “Anonymous” sources.

Anonymous sourcing is so common Americans have become numb to it. In the current case, I’m confident that in the next few weeks, investigations by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General will reveal evidence of the damage perpetrated by this type of reporting. Let’s face it: the entire Russia collusion story initiated by members of the Obama Administration was fabricated based entirely on not any wrongdoing by those other than Donald Trump et al. The basis for the $40 million Mueller Investigation was simply “Donald Trump must have done something evil to entice Russia to assist with election tampering to help him get elected. He couldn’t have possibly defeated Hillary without outside help. Let’s find the evidence to support that.” How could the News Media effectively create a three-year news scheme that required a daily dump of information palatable and believable to the American people, especially when there was no evidence of any such wrongdoing? News management found a way: quoting “anonymous sources” for every negative bit of news to be reported.

They even (when questioned by Americans when President Trump named such reports “Fake News” realized there was so much news necessary to achieve the success they were going to be required to quote sources. How is it possible to cite sources when stories were devised in newsrooms where reporters creatively crafted evidence that was fake? It didn’t take long for a few editors to realize that this impeachment story would be the most important of the past three or four decades. Because of that, they could realistically expect a percentage of Americans to believe whatever negative things about Mr. Trump they reported. After all, their favorite candidate Hillary Clinton captured more of the popular vote than did Trump. It would undoubtedly be an easy sell. And it was.

Why cannot Americans get consistent reporting using known sources for information? There’s only one reason for this. News agencies will say that sources will not go on the record in some cases without assurances of anonymity. Why? Those sources fear they’re giving that information could endanger them personally or professionally. My question in those cases is “If it is so dangerous to anyone, why is it necessary to report at all?” The answer to that is: “Because someone somewhere can either receive a fat paycheck for the report or the political agenda of someone is legitimized or heightened in importance by that news, whether it’s fake or true.”

Sadly, professional journalists seemed to have –on the most part — signed-on to that process. It seems that every news organization in the U.S., to some degree, gives “anonymous” or “unnamed sources” legitimacy because “Americans deserve to know everything of importance.” But is something about someone or some organization that has not been verified by at least one source essential to roll the dice at the expense of the American people simply to get a story into the public’s minds? The answer: doing so has been given the green light over and over again.

Attacking Donald Trump continuously has been an approved action by almost every news organization today: forget about sourcing, forget about verification and authentication. Just be the first to get it on the internet, in the paper, or a television interview is sufficient to justify the release of a story. “We’ll deal with any blowback after-the-fact,” the editors say.

Summary

You may ask, “What does all this have to do with today’s story opening in which you shared a company process of dispute resolution?” The answer is simple and it parallels the legal process in operation in the U.S. Justice system from its creation. First with “the presumption of innocence.” That guarantees that all caught up in the U.S. criminal justice system in their legal battles will always be considered innocent unless and until they are proven guilty. Secondly, the right of the accused to always be able to confront their accuser is another guarantee.

In our company conflict resolution process, though not in criminal cases, we determined all conflicts should be resolved — period. We recognized that people will exhibit personal preferences for and with others often based on feelings rather than with facts. Human nature being what it is, people often put their own thoughts, ideas, and wishes ahead of others. And in working together in a closed environment, we feel it is necessary to make certain no person is ever treated as being less worthy, or their opinions, ideas, and personal values less important than those of fellow workers.

How does that play into news reported with the use of anonymous or unnamed sources? Those reports with such sources are almost always derogatory to the subject or subjects of the news story. To that end, are journalists better than other humans regarding their truthfulness about others? Do journalists automatically receive a pass from the responsibility to tell the truth?

Opponents state the importance of getting stories out to Americans quickly trumps any need to make certain of the truth of what is being reported. But wait: is there ever a justifiable circumstance in which it is OK for a journalist to roll the dice on the potential destruction of an innocent person’s life by reporting a “factual” story that may possibly contain false or fabricated information? Is getting news to the public that, really is NOT news, but it is important enough to destroy careers, relationships, families or businesses just to publish before another news outlet? I think not. But many in the news business give no thought to doing so every day and with impunity.

How is that done with impunity? Adults know when a news item or story probably will hurt someone. Reporters also know courts have rules for reporters stating they cannot be forced to reveal story sources based on the freedom of speech promised in the First Amendment. Knowing a story might contain unconfirmed information should prevent news organizations from publishing a story without fact confirmation.

Until the advent of satellite and internet news with a 24/7 hunger for instant news, news outlets had reporting requirements of fact confirmation before any story was published. With stiff competition in news, the editorial demand for source confirmation was eased or even dropped because of the need to be first with a story. The chance of destroying one’s life or career with the release of a story was tossed out of the window with instant news demand forcing organizations to “be first.”

I’m a journalist. While I want to be first with an idea or story whenever possible, I am conscious of each story’s impact on all who read it and all who are story subjects. The “need to know” should always trump the “want to know” in the release of any story. People are more important than information. And if every news organization would resume that age-old mandate of editors and publishers from the past to require every source to be confirmed at least once and in some cases twice, we’d seldom or never see a story that we must question its accuracy. To continue down the path of supermarket tabloid news from companies with billions of dollars in resources that have the capacity to generate 100% accurate stories every day is unacceptable. And it should not matter which side of the political aisle on which an editor sits, truthfulness and source confirmation should be an “always” requirement for every story. News publishers and editors: Stop it!

America, we’re better than that.

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