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Friday, December 9, 2016

Harry Reid has provoked outrage among liberals as well as conservatives, who seem to believe he has violated propriety by repeating gossip about Mitt Romney’s taxes. The Senate leader says someone connected with Romney told him that the Republican candidate paid no income taxes for a period of ten years. Offended by Reid’s audacity, commentators on the right have indicted him for  “McCarthyism” while others on the left have accused him of inventing the whole story.

Evidently the chief complaint against Reid — aside from aggressiveness unbecoming a Democrat — is that he cited “an extremely credible source” who he has so far declined to name.  Some journalists have gone so far as to suggest that Reid must be lying because he won’t identify the source.

Despite all this righteous tut-tutting among the great and the good, in newspapers and magazines as well as on television, Reid’s critics simply have no way of knowing whether he is telling the truth or not. From the beginning, Reid himself admitted forthrightly that he has no way of being absolutely certain whether what he was told is factual or not, although he believes the person who said it was being truthful.

Many of Reid’s critics work for news outlets that rely on unnamed sources every day, of course, publishing assertions that range from the mundane to the outlandish. It is hard to see why an unnamed source quoted by a daily newspaper or a monthly magazine – or hidden behind a screen in a TV studio – is more credible than a person whispering in the ear of a United States Senator.

Indeed, several of the news outlets now barking at Reid have suffered their own episodes of scandalous embarrassment due to the exposure of invented sources and quotes (see Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, etc. etc. etc.). Yet they nevertheless continue to publish quotes from such unnamed individuals. After all, where else would Reid have learned that this is acceptable conduct?

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