CNN anchors attack the scourge of anonymity

Media attacks on "anonymous bloggers" somehow overlook that most anonymity comes from Real Journalists

Published July 24, 2010 1:25PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

CNN's Kyra Phillips and John Roberts spent a good five minutes yesterday expressing serious concern over what they called "the dark side" of the Internet:  the plague of "anonymous bloggers" who are "a bunch of cowards" for not putting their names on what they say, and who use this anonymity to spread "conspiracy," "lunacy," "extremism" and false accusations (video below).   The segment included excerpts from an interview with Andrew Keene, author of Cult of the Amateur:  How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture, who explained that the Real Media must serve as "gatekeepers" to safeguard the public against the dangers of anonymity on the Internet.  Roberts demanded that bloggers should "have the courage at the very least to put your name on it," while Phillips announced:  "something is going to have to be done legally. . . . these people have to be held accountable, they're a bunch of cowards." 

These CNN journalists have a very good point, of course:  it was, after all, Internet bloggers -- using the scourge of anonymity -- who convinced the nation of a slew of harmful conspiracy theories:  Saddam had WMD, an alliance with Al Qaeda, and responsibility for the anthrax mailings.  Anonymity is also what allowed bloggers to smear Richard Jewell, Wen Ho Lee, and Steven Hatfill with totally false accusations that destroyed their lives and reputation, and it's what enabled bloggers to lie to the nation about Jessica Lynch's heroic firefight, countless U.S. airstrikes, and a whole litany of ongoing lies about our current wars.  And remember when anonymous bloggers spewed all sorts of nasty, unaccountable bile about Sonia Sotomayor's intellect and temperament?  Just as Roberts lamented, blogs -- as a result of anonymity -- are the "Wild West of the Internet . . . . like a giant world-wide bathroom wall where you can write anything about anyone."

Indeed, what's especially noble about establishment media journalists such as those on CNN, what vests them with so much deserved Credibility, is how much they hate anonymity because of how cowardly and unaccountable it is.  There are several examples from the last 24 hours alone which demonstrate these high journalistic standards.  Here is a Washington Post article from yesterday by Philip Rucker on the criticisms of the Obama administration from the Left:

"As a party, we respect the role that people like [Markos Moulitsas] and his blog play and understand that their role is to try to push the envelope further than it might be pushed otherwise," said a senior Democratic official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This has been the busiest and most successful Congress since the Great Depression and it's been accomplished with big majorities. I don't think anyone can argue that it would be better if Democrats are in the minority or have smaller majorities."

So there, the Post granted anonymity to a "senior Democratic official" in order to reveal how great the Democratic Party is and how vital it is that they win as many seats as possible in the election.  Then there's this U.S. News & World Report article from yesterday on Newt Gingrich's presidential run:

Conservatives we talked to said that Gingrich is on to a good political issue should he run for the presidency. "Newt is going to be a very strong candidate," said one supporter, a Washington political strategist and fundraiser.

There, U.S. News granted anonymity to a supporter of Gingrich to say what a strong candidate Gingrich is.  And then there's this extremely important and probing article from The New York Times today on the hurt feelings which many friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton (i.e., their large donors) are experiencing as a result of not having been invited to Chelsea's wedding:

"I'm good enough to borrow a plane from, but not good enough to be invited to the wedding?” complained one Clinton friend, who remembered the times he handed over his jet and his pilot to take Bill Clinton around the country but had not landed a coveted invitation to Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials. . . . "I'm sure there are some people who are lobbying discreetly," said someone who has known the Clintons for decades. "If they're on the list, they will ballyhoo it quietly, and if they’re not on the list, their noses will be out of joint. I know some people whose noses are out of joint." (Like most F.O.B.'s -- Friends of Bill -- the person did not want to be quoted by name, swearing by the wedding’s code of silence.) . . . "It's not a political rally, it's not a state affair," said one longtime Clinton supporter who was not invited but was still nervous about upsetting the former president. 

Click here to see but one of countless examples of how much CNN itself hates cowardly anonymity.  The catty, harmful insults in the 2004 campaign that John Kerry "looks French" and John Edwards is the "Breck Girl" were introduced to the public by The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, quoting an anonymous Bush aide.  And, of course, pick any random Politico article from any day which shapes cable news coverage and Washington chatter for the week, and it's certain to be based in this formula:  one anonymous person said X and another anonymous person denied this

At least anonymous bloggers are very clear and truthful about what they are:  often citizens whose jobs or other interests prevent them from attaching their names to their political expression.  By stark contrast, all of these establishment media outlets perpetrate a total fraud on the public by pretending that they have standards for when anonymity will be used even though, as these examples from the last 24 hours alone prove, they routinely violate those alleged standards for absolutely no reason.  It just never ceases to amaze how much establishment journalists like Roberts and Phillips love to rail against the Evils of Internet Anonymity when reckless, cowardly anonymity -- for purposes ranging from catty, trivial gossip to pernicious propaganda and everything in between -- is a central tool of their "profession" and of the political class they cover.

[The most noteworthy part of this segment might actually have come toward the end, when Roberts -- out of absolutely nowhere -- volunteered this creepy confession: "I always caution young people: never post a naked photograph of yourself on the Internet"; if there's anything needing greater attention, it might be Roberts' bizarre propensity for walking around starting conversations with "young people" about that].


UPDATE:  As several commenters noted, this is the same Kyra Phillips responsible for one of the more disgusting television moments of the last decade.  In April, 2003, she interviewed the doctor treating Ali Abbas, a 12-year-old Iraqi boy who had just lost 15 relatives, including his father, pregnant mother and three siblings, as well as both of his arms, in an errant American missile strike on the Baghdad suburb where he lived.  While this child had burns all over his body, some of them infected, putting him in constant pain, Phillips asked his doctor this question:

Doctor, does he understand why this war took place? Has he talked about Operation Iraqi Freedom and the meaning? Does he understand it?

As Joan Walsh put it at the time:  Phillips asked this "question" after the doctor explained that Ali said he hopes no other "children in the war will suffer like what he suffered"; "Phillips seemed shocked by Ali's apparent inability to understand we were only trying to help him."  Walsh wrote that the boy's physician had "to explain [to Phillips] that the doctors were more interested in treating the boy than indoctrinating him:  'Actually, we don't discuss this issue with him because he is -- the burn cases, and the type of injury, he's in very bad psychological trauma'."  I have no doubt that Kyra "Operation Iraqi Freedom" Phillips would be eager to explain to you how she -- unlike those hordes of wretched, anonymous, partisan Internet bloggers -- is an Objective Journalist who doesn't allow any opinions to infect her "reporting."  Of course, since the opinions she expresses are the Right Ones, she -- unlike Octavia Nasr -- still has a job on CNN, crusading for High Journalistic Standards.


UPDATE II:  Jim Henley notes the other strange aspect of this whole episode:  Phillips and Roberts used the fraudulent Shirley Sherrod video as their jumping off point to attack "anonymous bloggers," but, as Henley says:  "Andrew Breitbart is a lot of things, but 'anonymous' is none of them. The Sherrod lie got as far as it did because, in CNN-spokesmodel circles, Breitbart is a celebrity. A trusted brand. That's why everyone from the Emm Ess Emm to the Obama administration jumped on the lie so quickly."  Indeed, the Sherrod episode negates rather than bolsters the point about anonymity which the CNN readers thought they were making, since the primary culprit in that fraud used his real name. 

People spill a lot of ink on complex explanations for the profound flaws of the establishment media, but often, the proximate cause is simply the pure denseness of media stars (though they are chosen to be media stars by the corporations that own them because of, not despite, this denseness, which leads back to the more complex questions about what establishment media outlets are and the functions they intend to fulfill).

By Glenn Greenwald

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