Tuesday, May 8, 2007

When Not to Publish Anonymous Leaks

Phil Klein opines that Jonathan Martin's article yesterday about Rudy's donations to Planned Parenthood—information Martin received from an unnamed rival campaign—"makes me a bit uncomfortable, because basically the journalist is doing the dirty work for a candidate."

But the Hotline's Marc Ambinder (who I just recently discovered and whose work is terrific) argues that "Martin wasn't spoon-fed." He confirmed the tip, contextualized it, and disclosed its origin.

My take: Ambinder's conditions are all necessary but not sufficient to maintain journalistic integrity. To be sure, the issue isn't that the article hurt Rudy or helped his rivals, or that the Politico published the tip. The issue is the anonymity, or as the New York Times's first public editor, Dan Okrent, phrased it in a different context, the "anonymity-cloaked assertions of people with vested interests."

If a campaign wants its opposition research publicized, especially in a high-profile venue like the Politico, then it should stand by its hard work, with attribution. Martin, who's doing terrific work for his paper, was used like a football, and even though he and his editors are okay with that, the New York Times would never be.

Having said that, I'm still waiting for Jack Shafer to weigh in.

Update: Tom Bevan of RCP explains why the leak was well-timed.

1. "People, especially conservatives, are paying more attention to this stuff than most people . . . think.

2. "The longer Rudy stays out in front the more dangerous he becomes, so it is imperative he be brought back to the pack as soon as possible.

3. "Giuliani showed weakness on the issue of abortion in last week's debate and so the perfect opportunity presented itself to extend and expand conservative doubts about him on the issue by leaking the story now.