One day after Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders criticized the use of “unnamed sources” in news reports, President Trump posted a video that includes an unnamed source questioning CNN commentator Van Jones on hidden camera.
The video by conservative outlet Project Veritas features someone identified only as a “PV journalist” catching Jones on the street and asking him about investigations of ties between Trump and Russia. Jones replies that the “Russia thing is just a big nothing burger” — a sentiment he has publicly expressed before.
“I think Democrats are fooling ourselves if we think something’s going to come out of this investigation that somehow is going to end the Trump presidency and make everything better,” Jones said in a video he posted online last week.
As the Washington Post notes, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe’s “work has been repeatedly criticized for intentionally deceptive editing.” And O’Keefe pleaded guilty in 2010 in an attempt to infiltrate a Democratic senator’s office.
The new video, like a Project Veritas video released Monday that features a CNN producer, was recorded by an unnamed, unidentified man using a hidden camera. In the video, the producer describes the Russia case as “mostly bulls—.” (The Post said he is “not involved in political coverage.”)
On Tuesday, Huckabee Sanders urged “everybody across the country” to watch the video of the producer “whether it’s accurate or not.” She also decried the use of “unnamed sources,” apparently unbothered that the “PV journalist” in the video she was recommending was unnamed.
An anonymously sourced video isn’t exactly the same as an anonymously sourced quote, of course — we can see Van Jones and the CNN producer speaking, even if the footage is edited and we don’t know the full context of their remarks.
One of the problems with anonymous sourcing is that it doesn’t allow readers or viewers to use the anonymous person’s background, track record or reputation to gauge the veracity of the person’s information. It is also impossible for someone to directly confront or engage with an anonymous accuser.
For example, we don’t know exactly how the “PV journalist” knows his unwitting interview subjects, why they’re talking with him, or anything else. Because he’s unnamed.
Of course, there are also advantages to unnamed sources: Anonymity can allow people to tell the truth without fear of retribution from employers, police or the government.
Trump himself has also repeatedly criticized the use of anonymous and unnamed sources, despite often using them himself. He posted a short intro to the Jones video on Instagram, writing, “#CNN is #FakeNews. The video via #ProjectVeritas that EVERYONE is talking about!”