Soliciting quotes from anonymous political aides is a hallmark of Washington journalism, where some of the choicest news morsels come only if the persons leaking them to you is able to protect their identity -- and their career.
But a Monday story published by the D.C.-centric Politico takes the use of anonymous quotes to a new level.
In the article, "Nancy Pelosi's brutal reality check," Politico reporters John Bresnahan and Jonathan Allen explore the harsh realities of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's political life as she fights to maintain a Democratic majority in the House. They call Pelosi "one of the strongest speakers in modern history," but temper their praise by labeling her "an authoritarian figure."
Then they go for the jugular.
Among a list of challenges they say Pelosi faces: health care, voters, Democratic infighting, campaigning and the "'bullet in the head' factor: Pelosi insists she will fight for every Democratic seat this November."
It's unclear what Politico's scribes are referring to until the third to last paragraph of the piece, in which a "Democratic" insider is quoted portraying Pelosi as a ruthless political arriviste.
Pelosi “will put a bullet in the head of anyone she needs to,” a 'Democratic insider' is quoted as saying. “Rangel, any incumbent that looks like he’s going to lose. She’ll do anything it takes to keep her majority, anything.”
In Washington, nearly anyone can be labeled a Democratic insider. The use of the quote is stark enough; what's notable is the fact that it couldn't even be sourced to a legislative aide or Democratic staffer. Without a named source -- or even a location -- it's impossible for the reader to get a sense of the bias of the critic. Numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, tightened their use of anonymous sourcing after anonymous sources helped lead their papers into articles suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction prior to President George W. Bush's invasion in 2003.
Not enough? Politico's reporters take the time to criticize what they call the hard-edged "Pelosi style," but don't provide a single named source.
“She doesn’t delegate,” one House Democrat 'close to the speaker' purportedly remarks. “It’s her biggest flaw. She has to have her hand in every decision.”
How close to the Speaker? The authors don't say.
Need more? The two reporters turn to an "anonymous senior lawmaker" to criticize Pelosi's failure to follow the House's chain of command.
“There are instances in which regular order is not being followed,” the 'Democratic lawmaker' purportedly told Politico.
Pelosi isn't without Democratic critics, some of whom have gone on the record. In 2006, she created a special select committee to deal with climate issues in the House over the objection of Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), whose Energy and Commerce Committee previously had jurisdiction. She also sidelined Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), who appeared poised to take over the House Intelligence Committee in favor of another member. (Skipping over Hastings produced an on-the-record critic in Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC).)
But none have gone so far -- on the record -- as to accuse her of putting a "bullet" in their heads.