Nearly half of Utahns think journalists who use anonymous sources in their reporting are making up those sources.
A Dan Jones & Associates survey finds 45% of Utahns say journalists are simply making up those anonymous sources. 29% say anonymous sources in news stories are trustworthy, while a little more than a quarter (27%) say they're not sure.
The use of anonymous sources has become a journalistic flashpoint during the Donald Trump administration. Numerous stories detailing the inner workings of the Trump White House have used anonymous sources because those people willing to talk to reporters feared reprisal, or felt they could only speak freely if their names were not used.
President Trump himself has lashed out at media outlets using anonymous sources, labeling many of those as "fake news," even though much of their reporting has panned out. In May, Trump tweeted "Whenever you see the words 'sources say' in the fake news media, and they don't mention names...it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #fakenews is the enemy."
Recently CNN was forced to retract a story alleging "Congress was investigating a Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials." The story relied on a single anonymous source. The story was retracted because it did not follow CNN's editorial process. Three CNN employees resigned following the retraction.
The anonymous source blade cuts both ways. Fox News has been accused of using anonymous sources to defend Trump, most recently against claims by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough that Trump's associates had demanded Scarborough apologize for his negative comments about the president. Otherwise, a hit piece about Scarborough's rumored relationship with co-host Mika Brzezinski would run in the National Enquirer.
Speaking of the National Enquirer, Trump is a bit two-faced when it comes to anonymous sources in the media. In the late 1990's, Trump allegedly became an anonymous source for the Enquirer when his friend, David Pecker, became the publisher of the magazine. The New Yorker says Trump would often provide the magazine with stories.
(Editor's note: UtahPolicy.com occasionally uses anonymous sources for stories.)
Not surprisingly, the results break along partisan lines.
- 62% of Utah Republicans think journalists make up those anonymous sources. (Editor's note: many of the anonymous sources UtahPolicy.com uses in our reporting are Republican officials).
- 68% of Utah Democrats say anonymous sources are trustworthy.
- Independent voters are evenly divided on the question, with 35% saying journalists fabricate anonymous sources, and another 35% who feel anonymous sources are trustworthy.
Perhaps that distrust of anonymous sources among Republicans was bred during the Watergate scandal when the Washington Post used an anonymous source dubbed "Deep Throat" to root out wrongdoing by the Nixon administration. That reporting ultimately led the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Nixon, who later resigned. "Deep Throat" was later revealed to be Mark Felt, who was a special agent in the FBI.
The Dan Jones & Associates survey was conducted May 31-June 5, 2017 among 607 registered Utah voters. It has a margin of error +/- 3.98%.