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On the Condition of Anonymity

Unnamed Sources and the Battle for Journalism

Matt Carlson

Publication Year: 2011

Matt Carlson confronts the promise and perils of unnamed sources in this exhaustive analysis of controversial episodes in American journalism during the George W. Bush administration, from prewar reporting mistakes at the New York Times and Washington Post to the Valerie Plame leak case and Dan Rather's lawsuit against CBS News._x000B_ _x000B_Weaving a narrative thread that stretches from the uncritical post-9/11 era to the spectacle of the Scooter Libby trial, Carlson examines a tense period in American history through the lens of journalism. Revealing new insights about high-profile cases involving confidential sources, he highlights contextual and structural features of the era, including pressure from the right, scrutiny from new media and citizen journalists, and the struggles of traditional media to survive amid increased competition and decreased resources.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: The History of Communication

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Writing a book seems quite deceptively to be a solitary undertaking. In reality, I owe an enormous amount of credit to the many smart and supportive people surrounding me over the past six or so years. I am forever grateful for the education I received from the Annenberg School for Communication...

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introductionThe Problems—and Promise—of Unnamed Sources

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pp. 1-30

Readers of the May 26, 2004, New York Times opened their papers to find an unusual note from editor Bill Keller on page A10. Fourteen months after the invasion of Iraq, the newspaper took itself to task for having bungled its reporting on the buildup to what...

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1. Media Culpas: Prewar Reporting Mistakes at the New York Times and Washington Post

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pp. 31-51

In the early months of 2007, a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C., hosted the unusual spectacle of journalists testifying about their behindthe- scenes interactions with executive branch officials. The trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the result of...

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2. "Blogs 1 CBS 0": 60 Minutes and the Killian Memos Controversy

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pp. 52-70

On Wednesday, September 8, 2004, in the midst of the hard-fought 2004 presidential campaign between incumbent George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, 60 Minutes aired a segment titled “For the Record” questioning whether President Bush had..

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3. Journalists Fight Back: Newsweek and the Koran Abuse Story

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pp. 71-90

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, no political topic consumed the American public more than the constellation of actions and policies dubbed the “War on Terror” by the U.S. government. The Bush administration’s aggressive multipronged...

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4. Deep Throat and the Question of Motives

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pp. 91-110

The public struggle to define news controversies involving unnamed sources regularly centers on questions of motive. Why has the source come forward, but only partly? Why be veiled at all? What is being left out? The subject of motive is particularly...

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5. "Journalism on Trial": Confidentiality and the Plame Leak Case

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pp. 111-137

Dan Rather’s hasty retirement, the failings of Newsweek, and remembrances of Watergate and Deep Throat were all still fresh in the public mind when, on June 27, 2005, the latest scuffle over unnamed sources grabbed the limelight after the U.S. Supreme Court...

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6. Rethinking Anonymity: Problems and Solutions

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pp. 138-162

As the dust clears from a string of struggles over unnamed sources at elite news outlets, the inevitable question arises: how did the New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News, Time, and Newsweek all become embroiled in controversies involving...


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pp. 163-196


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pp. 197-202

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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pp. 203

E-ISBN-13: 9780252093180
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035999

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The History of Communication