Just how bad has the practice of using anonymous sources gotten? NBC News reported this morning that NBC News has begun negotiating with Megyn Kelly for her departure from the network. And just how did NBC News find out about NBC News’ negotiations? Er …
NBC News and Megyn Kelly are in talks about the anchor leaving the network, according to a source familiar with the situation.
“Conversations have already started about Megyn’s exit from the network,” the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly said said Thursday night.
Let’s get this straight. NBC News’ Claire Atkinson and Dylan Byers are reporting on their own news organization, and they’re using anonymous sources to do so? Over a contract negotiation with on-air talent? What’s next — anonymous sourcing for next week’s Movie of the Week?
Lest anyone think that this story is single-sourced, Atkinson and Byers use a second anonymous source to confirm what their own news organization is doing:
Representatives for Kelly are scheduled to meet Friday with company executives, according to another source with direct knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly. The same source said it looks “extremely unlikely” that she will stay at the network. A representative for Kelly declined to comment.
If Kelly’s reps aren’t talking, then this suggests that the two sources are from the other side of the negotiating table — in other words, NBC News. It’s hard to imagine that Kelly’s team would be leaking this anyway. For Kelly, the less said publicly about this negotiation the better. Even if they wanted to leak this, though, they wouldn’t give it to the same news organization that’s presently trying to weasel out of a $69 million contract commitment to Kelly. But even if it did come from Kelly, why would a news outlet report on itself using anonymous sources when it could just as easily report it themselves in a straightforward manner, on the record?
So hey, what a scoop, amirite? If NBC News wanted this information out in the public, why not just send out a press release rather than dress it up as a news report? It’s a gutless move in an attempt to increase pressure on Kelly and her team to accept a settlement of the contract, laundered through their own reporters.
Finally, this should be an instructive moment. News organizations insist that anonymous sourcing allows them to do critical reporting on highly sensitive issues, and that’s true in very limited contexts — but it’s become a crutch for lots of other stuff, too. Now that news organizations are producing their own anonymous sources for their PR work, maybe we can have a serious conversation about how unserious this method actually is.