There's a widespread debate in media circles about how often to use anonymous sources, and I understand why it is sometimes necessary. That said, the practice is now so commonly abused that many journalists feel no compunction whatsoever in passing off anonymous rumors as credible news. Take this 'article' by Peter Cohn of CongressDaily, which purports to be about a possible successor to Charlie Rangel on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but quickly devolves into a gossip-y and entirely anonymous set of industry lobbyists unaccountably sniping at the progressive Democrat next in line for the job, Pete Stark.
It starts with an anonymous Republican lobbyist - who has no vote in Congress - discussing elected official Charlie Rangel.
"He's a long way from going down," said a GOP tax lobbyist.
Then an anonymous Democrat - aide, member, lobbyist, someone - goes on to attack Stark. Apparently they are close to leadership, which rules out, well, perhaps Dennis Kucinich.
"The conventional wisdom is he would have a tough time getting elected chairman," said a Democrat close to leadership.
Then it moves to a nice claim by 'sources' that Stark is prone to 'gaffes', ie. statements that make people in DC uncomfortable.
From suggesting Republicans were sending troops to Iraq to die "for the president's amusement" to referring to a former GOP lawmaker as a "little fruitcake," Stark is prone to gaffes, sources said.
Of course, anonymous industry lobbyists must have their say, and the anonymous business community registers its firm disapproval.
"The guy behind [Rangel] is just not tenable. Republicans would have a field day," an industry lobbyist said, while noting the business community would "go nuclear. It would just be open warfare."
Anonymous industry sources then discuss which popularly elected member of Congress they will agree to work with.
He is also seen as very much in tune with the labor movement, although industry sources said Levin was someone they could work with, as opposed to Stark.
Then anonymous sources put forward their 'too liberal' ideological screen against Jim McDermott, who apparently isn't gaffe-prone, just liberal.
Next is Income Security and Family Support Subcommittee Chairman Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who is seen as a bit more of a pragmatist than Stark but still in the too-liberal category. He also is a highly partisan figure, and sources said there was generally little reason to reach down the seniority list to tap McDermott.
Anonymous industry sources continue discussing how elected Democratic lawmakers need to manage Congressional relations.
Then there is Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis, D-Ga., the well-liked, highly respected former civil rights leader whose selection could smooth over relations with the Congressional Black Caucus if Rangel were nudged out. "Rangel is the dean of the CBC, and that's nothing to be smirked at," an industry source said.
And then industry sources give their seal of approval to the one popularly elected Democratic lawmaker they will agree to work with.
Finally, there is Select Revenue Measures Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., who is the favorite of the business community among potential successors and has labor bona fides as well. Neal is seen as a bright, active and relatively young chairman-in-waiting, but as fifth in seniority after Rangel, the time may not yet be ripe to choose him, sources said.
And anonymous industry source also points out that Rangel is in trouble, which, while widely known, this must be said anonymously.
But another industry source, while noting the lack of a smoking gun, referred to the steady drumbeat of allegations as potentially damaging. "In this town, impression often matters more than fact," the source said.
And there we go. 'Journalist' Peter Cohn puts together a wholly conventional ideological hit job on Democrat Pete Stark using nine anonymous quotes or statements attributed to 'sources'. Not one single person will go on the record to discuss why the seniority system shouldn't work in the case of Stark, not one policy idea is considered in the article vis-a-vis Stark or anyone else's record, and the reader learns nothing about the tax writing committee from it other than nine anonymous sources in Congress think something. Apparently, the amorphous business community will 'go nuclear', whatever that means, Stark is gaffe-prone, but neither the public, policy, or the shift leftward in Congress as evidenced by Waxman's recent committee victory in the Energy and Commerce tussle are even referenced.
And this is the point. One of the most insidious aspects of DC is how the conventional wisdom that dominates policy-making is shaped by an interplay between reporters and lobbyists, with ideas and voters entirely cut out. Based on this article, I have no idea if Stark would write good tax law or manage the committee well, I have no idea who the people are that are criticizing him and so the criticisms are entirely devoid of context, and Stark - Air Force vet, successful businessman, and experienced legislator - is completely powerless to respond. This unaccountable and unelected system, where industry lobbyists and their incestuous journalistic partners directly contradict the power vested by the public in our elected officials, is why the public hates the Beltway and its trappings of power.