Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not Authorized to Speak

I scan several news stories every day. Frequently I see something I find very disturbing that has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the story itself. It is that some person with inside knowledge has divulged a piece of information to the reporter even though they either A) weren't supposed to be talking to the press, B) preempted the forthcoming official announcement, or C) violated an express or implied confidentiality.

If I were the President, CEO, owner or other such stakeholder of any of these organizations, I would make it a priority to root out the offending parties. How could I expect to accomplish much of anything if I can't even trust one or more of the people in my inner circle?

I get the impression that the feeling is if the reporter states that the source was not authorized to speak, there is little damage or risk. It is immunity from responsibility. I am of the opinion that once something has been publicized and documented, whether it comes from an official spokesperson or not, that information becomes a de facto source.

If Madison spills the beans to Sara about a surprise I've been working on for her, what's the point in continuing the charade? If I were to publish information about my company on this blog, that material would become part of the public domain even though I'm not authorized to speak on the company's behalf, or that my understanding of the issues may be incomplete. This is exactly why I specifically do not blog about that aspect of my life.

Below are some examples from recent stories of what I am talking about. Links are to the full text, but my point is in the excerpts.


Defense officials said a one-ton bomb was used to attack Rayan's home, and that weapons stored inside set off secondary explosions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.

Earlier this week, Olmert rebuffed a French proposal for a two-day suspension of hostilities. But at the same time, he seemed to be looking for a diplomatic way out, telling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other world leaders that Israel wouldn't agree to a truce unless international monitors took responsibility for enforcing it, government officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.

Jett apparently hit his head on the bathtub, said a police officer who declined to be named because she was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Reid was told by Obama that if Burris had the legal standing to be seated — despite controversy surrounding his appointment by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — it should be done "sooner rather than later," said an Obama transition aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.

The Democrats who described the likely reversal did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose developments not yet made public.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the president has not yet released his budget, said Obama hopes to achieve his deficit-reduction goal by generating savings as he follows through on three core campaign promises over the next four years.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House had not made public the announcement.


If something is confidential or you are not supposed to be talking about it - ESPECIALLY to the press - doing so anonymously does not make it okay. You should at a bare minimum be fired, and in some cases you should probably be prosecuted as well where national security or other similarly weighty subject matters are involved.

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