Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston has sharp criticism today for the White House’s decision to threaten banishment for San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci, and views it as a continuation of open-government hypocrisy in the Obama administration. But Johnston also has some tough words for the Chron itself for allowing Obama staffers to complain about Marinucci and threaten the paper anonymously, thereby violating basic journalistic ethics.
It’s a good point. As a general rule, journalists should only grant anonymity to a source to protect the source from retaliation or physical harm. So, why then did the Chronicle grant anonymity to official sources who criticized and threatened the paper? Was the newspaper afraid? If so, then it should admit it. And if the paper simply made a bush-league mistake and granted anonymity when it shouldn’t have, it should admit that, too.