David Brooks writes in the Times today that McCain supporters are trying to figure out who the plausible candidates for the anonymous sources in yesterday’s story could be.
Just as a refresher, we decided to call the paper’s standards editor, Craig Whitney, to ask what the Times rules are on a related issue: Can a person give both an on-the-record quote and appear in the same story as an unnamed source? The answer is yes, but as long as the messages aren’t contradictory. Whitney said:
You can’t do that in a way where one person seems like two different people. Let’s say, you quote an anonymous source saying that the "New York Times paid too much for its skyscraper." And later in the story you quote Mr. Ratner saying, "We paid a fair price for the building," but he was the one who complained in the first place. You’re then playing it two ways and letting him have it both ways.
It often happens that people wil go off the record for some things and on the record for other things; but it’s not kosher to let them do it in a way where it seems they are two different people.
Jill Abramson answers questions on this in today’s Q&A with editors on nytimes.com. When discussing the "two associates" in the McCain story, she said:
The sources corroborated one another without orchestration, an issue, among others, that our team meticulously investigated. During the long process of our reporting on the story, we attempted, time and time again, to persuade our sources to go on the record and let us use their names. Again, there are named sources in the story but some sources continued to insist on maintaining the cloak of anonymity. As we neared publication, both the editors and the reporting team once again tested the veracity of these sources to make sure every fact in the story was accurate. We were all fully satisfied.