Posted by AnonymousSource, a resident of the Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood, on Apr 10, 2007 at 8:32 am
Don’t read this, because I’m anonymous.
If, by the city deserving “better”, Marianne Dean means more truth than less truth, then there is a good case that anonymity, despite its costs, produces more truth.
A thoughtful article that uses the recent Libby trial as a vehicle to explain long-standing back channels and relationships between press and politicos can be found here Web Link
Those unfamiliar with the degree of interrelationships between reporter and official were probably surprised to learn that in one case "senior administration officials" later turned out to be Karl Rove and Lewis Libby, mouthpieces of the President and Vice President respectively.
Did you ever think that “senior administration official” in a newspaper article meant the President of the United States? The author of the article, a former reporter himself, recalls an incident in which he granted this kind of anonymity directly to President Johnson. Granting it to Rove or Libby is almost no less direct.
There are many, many reasons why those who routinely speak on the record also routinely speak off the record. And even though anonymity afforded by the internet can produce a lack of civility it also lets real insiders disclose deep background that the press routinely does not know and would likely never learn.
In Menlo Park, there are about 100 people on both "sides" who are deeply involved in a fuller version of events than the press, because they are elected officials, appointed officials, former appointees, staff, or political organizers– principles themselves in current or former public processes. They are not just airing opinions, they are also providing deep background and historical context, and they often cite or give fuller meaning to official facts that appear on the city's website that sit mostly unread by the public.
The Henry Riggs editorial/Almanac Derry story is a perfect example. Recently, the Almanac reported an "agreement" citing "sources close to the negotiation.” Did you ever think that source might be say, the Mayor or another council member? Why anonymously?
How did the source establish bona fides with the reporter, and why did the reporter grant anonymity? The article does not address either of these, but in this case, if the source was a council member, (no council member has been described as being a party to the mediated talks) then he or she might have leaked it for personal political reasons, and the reporter might have certified the hearsay as an institutional courtesy while granting anonymity for personal reasons of his own, both to protect his source and to keep the on-going relationship.
The argument for anonymity in this case is the story would not otherwise be publicly available, and worse, a long-standing and valuable source would dry up.
Since the real parties in interest to the Derry project are described as being in “mediation” it’s likely they are bound by some form of non-disclosure agreement as they move through detailed discussions. Did one of them talk to the reporter?
Ironically, confidential mediation might enable an un-intended “cheap shot” where lucky Henry Riggs, who enjoys a public title but no real knowledge, shouts loudly and publicly into a standing vacuum, challenging Derry referendum organizers who know better but who might be duty bound to remain silent. Anonymity would allow responsible rebuttals without jeopardizing trust among negotiating parties so long as no important details were disclosed.
Marianne Dean resorts to ad hominem by implying that the anonymous are gutless, but being gagged is not the same as being gutless. Perhaps Henry Riggs signs his name simply he because he enjoys that luxury.
Another subtlety of politics is that “policy” can never be isolated from “personality.” In politics, there is always a chance that the author of an opinion will become the story. Frankly, who needs that?
Henry Riggs himself goes on the personal attack quickly moving from issues about Derry to ad hominem issues about petition signers and organizers and the current council.
But what is truly amazing and evident in the vast number of anonymous responses to Riggs post is their subject matter discipline. Only one of the respondents makes his or her response about Riggs. The remaining responses speak directly to the issues raised. In this case, those who responded anonymously were far more civil than those who did not.
For whatever reasons, good or bad, right or wrong, some who post opinions into the public sphere anonymously on this forum are often deep insiders to the processes they write about.
Shut your mind if you want, but for the discerning eye, there’s gold in some of “them thar” anonymous posts. It’s your job to mine the gold, but the Almanac is very savvy in putting this forum on its own web page.