I was shocked this week that The New York Times denied that President Barack H. Obama was the source of recent national security leaks, judged so serious that Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two independent Special Prosecutors.
For a moment let's forget the leaked information and its potential harmful effects on our nation's safety.
Time to go to school. Old School. Listen up journalism students , you don't talk about confidentially-sourced information.
Once you start eliminating sources, you start narrowing the field of sources. If you invoke the privilege of protecting your source, you cannot and must not identify whether a source was, or was not, the source of your story.
For example...a reporter is asked if Mr. Smith is the source for a story. The reporter responds, "No."
Next a reporter is asked if Mr. Jones is the source. The reporter invokes his constitutional right not to reveal a source.
Well guess what. You just gave up a source. Hand in your journalism card. You're fired.
That's why I never agreed to talk to a source, "off the record."
A source once gave me information he said was, "off the record." The information was something I already had been given by another source. The second source confirmed the story and served as confirmation. I aired the story.
I received an almost immediate phone call from the second source screaming that I had betrayed him. I engaged in a long conversation in which I tried to explain that I had not.
From that day forward I never talked to a source, "Off The Record."
Sources talk to a reporter because they want to.
When asked if I would hold information, "off the record," I always said, "no." Instead I told sources that the information they were offering up was, "Not For Attribution."
I used to engage in camouflage. I would call or visit sources who could have information about my story with the sole purpose of protecting my primary source.
Any source had to trust me and know that I would not give them up. But if a source was willing to talk, that source had to know they had some exposure.
That is why the New York Times decision to eliminate the President as a source is so disturbing. The Times made it easier to identify the real source. A really bad decision from one of the bastions of American journalism.
If you choose to share this information, please know this story is not, off the record.
It's, "not for attribution."