Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, added a new role to his portfolio last week: journalism professor. After singling out Newsweek for its article, now retracted, on reports that interrogators at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a Koran down the toilet, McClellan broadened his critique of the magazine’s journalistic practices to apply to those at the rest of the mainstream news media. There is “a credibility problem in the media regarding the use of anonymous sources,” McClellan said during a regular White House press briefing. “That’s one of the issues that concerns the American people when they look at the media,” he added, “and I think sometimes the media does have difficulty going back and kind of critiquing itself.”
Criticism of the media by the White House press spokesman is nothing new, reports the New York Times. What is different is how many national news organizations seem to agree with him. Concerned that they may have become too free in granting anonymity to sources, news organizations including USA Today, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, NBC News and the New York Times are trying to throttle back their use. But some journalists worry that these efforts could hamper them from doing their jobs – coming in a hothouse atmosphere where mistrust of the news media is rampant, hordes of newly minted media critics attack every misstep on the Web, and legal cases jeopardize their ability to keep unnamed news sources confidential. “Right now, the pendulum is swinging too far in the wrong direction,” said Stephen Engelberg, managing editor for enterprise at The Oregonian in Portland.