Harper's former communications director on anonymous sources
But it appears not enough was done to check if this [floor crossing story] was true until after the story was published. The reality is this was simply a lead sparked by uninformed, partisan gossip that should have been dropped upon further investigation. The reporter in question, and the Toronto Star, should feel justifiably angry if they were misled by a source, and any source who intentionally misleads a reporter face natural consequences for their actions. However, none of that changes the fact that this story should never have gone to print in the first place.
This is one case, but there are so many others. Think back to the dozens of "anonymous sources" that used to dish dirt on each other during the Chretien-Martin civil war. And who doesn't remember the phony "wafer-gate story" about the Prime Minister allegedly pocketing a communion wafer. That story's origin was traced back to a single anonymous partisan source, and resulted in the suspension of the paper's publisher and firing of the editor. This goes on all the time, and in the name of good journalism, it should be addressed.
That is why there are tough standards in place in many media outlets around the world when it comes to the use of anonymous sources. The New York Times policy states that anonymous sources should only be used as "a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information in not available any other way."
These sort of tough guidelines are there for the protection of the media, as well as the protection of those affected by stories that turn out to be less than true.
From lobbyist registries, to clear rules for government contracting, the Canadian public has long spoken out in favour of increased accountability and transparency in its public institutions. Perhaps it is time for a greater debate on these issues when it comes to our most important public institution - the media.