The Times instituted a new tic last spring, explaining each time the paper granted a source anonymity why it had done so. Over the weekend, the investigative blog Muckraked looked back at the first three months of 2006 and tallied up the different reasons given for anonymity. (Caroline Miller got there first, undertaking a smiliar effort in the Observer last August, and we'd link to it if it were possible to be linked to.) Now, in theory, reporters should grant anonymity as a last resort, only when the information is otherwise unobtainable. That, in turn, means that they should pressure sources as much as possible to speak on the record; the only times it'd be reasonable to allow anonymity, under that theory, is when something real and serious — a job, one's wellbeing — is at stake.
So what did Muckraked discover?
On one end, 86 wouldn't be named simply because they were talking out of school ("not authorized to comment," as Muckraked calls it). On the other end, 27 demanded anonymity for specific fears ("fear of payback," "source's job security," and "source's physical safety"). Somewhere in between — and this is our favorite category — 36 went unnamed for what the site is dubbing "good manners." (Examples: To avoid "straining relations," "angering," "alienating," "implicitly criticizing," "conflict," "complications," "upstaging superiors" or not want to "awaken new controversy," "worsen the fissures," "jeopardize own sources," "hurt," "embarrass," "be seen as interfering," "drag boss" or "told not to exult publicly," "no political gain," "considered improper," "political ramifications.")
Those wouldn't necessarily seem to be the kinds of reasons that would justify granting anonymity after the Times imposed its new, tougher standards. But, then, more than anything else, don't you rely on the Times to be a well-mannered paper?