How Many Ways Can You Cite An Unnamed Source?

“The use of unnamed sources is among American newspapers’ most damaging habits. People allowed to say things without having to be responsible for them say things they wouldn’t otherwise say. Misinformation, cheap shots–all is possible when no one is accountable. We rob readers the ability to judge what is said. How well placed is the speaker? What motivates him? Finally, unnamed sources undermine confidence in candor and the value of sharing one’s views and taking responsibility for them.”  Geneva Overhosler

“We have come to recognize that sources—those who want to manipulate members of the press—are gaining the upper hand in their relationships with journalists today, particularly in Washington.” Tom Rosenstiel


Truth is dead. Rumor is the new fact. And named sources are like cassette tapes… one uses them anymore. On a daily basis, the mainstream media reports unproven rumors as though they’re proven facts. I recently wrote about one of the techniques used by the media to create this illusion of fact, the use of misleading images. Today, I want to highlight the media’s favorite and most frequently used deception technique, the citing of unnamed sources. Unnamed sources are so frequently used in the media today, that I want to create a running list of the various ways the media describes unnamed sources.

This week has been a banner week for unnamed sources. They’ve whipped the country into a frenzy with BOMBSHELL after BOMBSHELL about the “Comey memos”, and statements they allege Trump made to the Russians. These revelations have culminated in the naming of a special prosecutor and accusations that the President obstructed justice. What’s more, with every new day comes another story (rumor) that only further increases the already massive stakes. Right at the center of the daily chaos are these nameless, faceless, all powerful anonymous sources. Most of the time, descriptions of unnamed sources are pretty mundane but since they’re being cited on a daily basis now, the media has started getting slightly creative in their descriptions. That’s why I want to start this list. For now, I’m using only stories published in the past week by the New York Times, CNN, and a few others that showed up high in a quick Google search. Right below, I’ve included the context of each unnamed source. Below that, I’ve created a more to the point list. Please add any that you come across in the comments. Feel free to include the mundane and the creative.


  1. New York Times – President Trump called the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, weeks after he took office and asked him when federal authorities were going to put out word that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation, according to two people briefed on the call.
  2. New York Times – Mr. Comey described all of his contacts with the president and the White House — including the phone call from Mr. Trump — in detailed memos he wrote at the time and gave to his aides. Congressional investigators have requested copies of the memos, which, according to two people who have read them, provide snapshots of a fraught relationship between a president trying to win over and influence an F.B.I. director and someone who had built his reputation on asserting his independence, sometimes in a dramatic way.
  3. CNN: Russian officials bragged they could use Flynn to influence Trump, sources say.
  4. CNN – The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials, some of whom acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn, who was tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser, current and former governments officials said.
  5. CNN – “This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.”
  6. CNN – Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem.
  7. CNN – Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question.
  8. CNN – According to one source with knowledge, Comey’s relationship with Trump was uncomfortable from the start.
  9. CNN – Sources: White House lawyers research impeachment
  10. CNN – White House lawyers have begun researching impeachment procedures in an effort to prepare for what officials still believe is a distant possibility that President Donald Trump could have to fend off attempts to remove him from office, two people briefed on the discussions tell CNN.
  11. New York Times –“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. 
  12. New York Times – Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief. The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.
  13. Portland Press Herald (Random, I know) – White House official a person of interest in Russia probe, say sources familiar with case
  14. Reuters – Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians: sources
  15. Reuters – Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

To summarize, the BOMBSHELLS, SMOKING GUNS, and SHOCKING REVELATIONS reported by the mainstream media this weekwhich are being cited as evidence of collusion and obstruction of justice, are backed by the following sources: (This is a partial list…..obviously.)

  1. Two unnamed people briefed on the call. (An alleged call between Trump and Comey)
  2. Two unnamed people who have read alleged memo’s, allegedly written by Comey.
  3. Unnamed sources.
  4. Unnamed current and former government officials.
  5. One unnamed former Obama administration official.
  6. Another unnamed former Obama administration official.
  7. An unnamed person familiar with James Comey’s thinking. (His psychologist maybe? His dog? His wife?)
  8. One unnamed source with knowledge. (This is my favorite. It really narrows down the possibilities…..What is knowledge anyway?)
  9. More unnamed sources.
  10. Two unnamed people briefed on alleged discussions about possible impeachment.
  11. An unseen document, which was read to The New York Times by an unnamed American official.
  12. Two unnamed people who have heard James Comey’s account of a dinner he had with Trump.
  13. Sources familiar with case.
  14. More and more unnamed sources.
  15. Unnamed Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges (phone calls allegedly made by Trump and Flynn)

Post any that you see or can remember in the comment section below.

Categories: quick hits

Leave a Reply