The president has been on a hot-streak of tweeting and retweeting lately, and in one of his social media postings on Saturday, took time to criticize media for using anonymous sources in their reporting.
“The most often used phrase in the Lamestream Media, by far, is ‘sources say’, or ‘officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity’, or anything similar which allows Fake News to make up a phony quote from a person who doesn’t even exist,” Trump wrote. “The American people should demand NAMES!”
Trump’s complaint is full of hypocrisy, however, as he’s been documented to share or promote reporting from media favorable to him that has also utilized anonymous sources. But beyond that part of his tweet, there’s also the issue of him complaining about the supposed use of people who don’t “even exist.”
That’s because, as Dave Levinthal, Editor-at-large for The Center for Public Integrity, pointed out, Trump has done that for years.
“A good moment to remember John Barron,” Levinthal responded to Trump’s tweet on Saturday.
— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) April 18, 2020
In the 1980s, Trump invented a person named John Barron (sometimes Baron) who served many times as head of his publicity. “Barron” would regularly hype Trump up to newspapers and magazines, and sometimes even threaten people over the phone if they sought to sue the businessman or reported something negative about him.
In 1990, under oath, Trump finally admitted that Barron was a name that he sometimes used. The business mogul was, at that time, in the midst of a lawsuit where former workers alleged that the Trump Organization had failed to pay them adequately — and that John Barron had threatened them with a counter lawsuit if they tried to get properly compensated.
The use of anonymous sources in news writing has been common for decades, even centuries, to allow people to speak up without repercussions for doing so, to expose wrongdoing where it happens without hurting their own livelihoods. More often than not, these individuals are real people.
Do some lie? Occasionally. But newspapers generally correct the record when that happens. What’s more, papers don’t typically use sources unless they have other corroborating evidence (a general practice, not always followed but often taught, is the “rule of two” separate sources when dealing with sensitive information).
If it’s just a person with a vendetta against the president, that’s usually easy to see through. If it’s an official in the Trump administration who’s got a title and access to the president himself, that’s usually worth looking into, and possibly printing, again especially if it can be corroborated.
Trump’s criticism of the media on Saturday didn’t suggest that they were wrong in their reporting, but that their reporting was flawed because it relied on some anonymous sources. The president doesn’t worry about anonymous sources, however, when it’s reporting to his liking…nor does he care about “fake” personas, particularly when it’s he who is pulling the strings, it appears.
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Chris Walker is a freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisconsin. A millennial with more than a decade of journalism experience, Chris aims to provide readers with the latest and most accurate news of national importance. Chris likes to spend his free time doing activities in his community with his family.