Unnamed and Anonymous Sources: Did They Shape the Debate over Invading Iraq?

By Hatcher, John A. | Global Media Journal, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Unnamed and Anonymous Sources: Did They Shape the Debate over Invading Iraq?


Hatcher, John A., Global Media Journal


Keywords: Iraq war, anonymous sources, content analysis, whistleblower

Abstract

A study of 528 news items from 11 countries explores how anonymous and unnamed sources were used by journalists during the buildup to the Iraq War. A quarter of all sources appearing in news items were not identified by name. The use of unnamed sources corresponded with a decrease in ideas opposing the war and a tone that presented the war as being more positive and unavoidable. The findings raise questions about whether anonymous and unnamed sources serve the perceived whistleblower function in political discourse.

Introduction

The image conjured up by the term "anonymous source" may be that of Deep Throat, the unnamed and, up until his death in 2008, unknown government source who guided journalists at The Washington Post in their reporting of the Watergate scandal that eventually led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. Deep Throat is portrayed by journalism practitioners as a whistleblower: a source who helps reporters get information that cannot be obtained in any other way, who is in obvious opposition to political leaders, and who assists the media in their role as political watchdogs (Brown, 2005).

However, a rich body of work exploring the role of media in a political system shows that, driven by ideals that place high value on credible, verifiable information, journalists favor official sources who tend to frame an issue in a way that is congruent with political leaders; these sources speak in a tone that tends to reinforce the position of government leaders rather than challenge it (Bennett, 1990; Schudson, 2003). The goal of this study is to explore the long-held assumption that journalists break from their routines when they use unnamed and anonymous sources in political reporting. It asks: Does the presence of anonymous sources in political reporting lead to news content that challenges the ideas of political leaders? Or, is there evidence that anonymous sources are being used by political actors to reinforce and even strengthen their own positions? This study explores the use of anonymous sources using a long history of media sociology research that explains the journalist-source relationship as one intimately tied to the political institution and the dominant messages of the sources that Schudson refers to as "parajournalists" (2003, p. 3).

While there has long been a debate over the use of unnamed sources, little is known about exactly how the presence of anonymous sources in news reporting affects political discourse. This study uses news coverage of the buildup to the Iraq War to explore these questions; it analyzes 528 news items published in 22 newspapers from 11 countries representing five languages. It explores whether the use of unnamed sources was more prevalent in some countries than others, whether these sources encouraged the use of certain ideas to interpret the news event and whether these sources swayed the tone of media messages.

On Sept. 4, 2002, then-U.S. President George W. Bush announced that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a threat to world security because he possessed weapons of mass destruction ("Moves towards U.S. military action," 2002). He urged the United States and other countries to join together in a coalition that would remove Hussein from power. Bush's announcement triggered a global discourse over the question of whether to invade Iraq. During the seven months prior to the invasion, the world's media were fixated firmly on this global debate, offering the ideal opportunity to explore just how unnamed and anonymous sources shaped political discourse.

Hachten (1999) says that, like never before, global news events are instantaneously observed by media who, with the aid of technology, make information immediate and transnational. Hatchen believes there now exists one global style of journalism that is especially apparent in the coverage of wars and major disasters. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Unnamed and Anonymous Sources: Did They Shape the Debate over Invading Iraq?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.