Anonymous Sources Get A Microphone (photo: splat, flickr)

Anonymous Sources Get A Microphone (photo: splat, flickr)

CNN staffers Gloria Borger and Kevin Bohn put together a novel report about a topic of grave national security, so important that sources would only speak after being granted anonymity for their quotes about the topic.

What top-secret topic could only be revealed by CNN through the extensive use of anonymous sourcing?

The article is about the possibility of a Plan B in the GOP presidential race: another candidate entering the fray should Mitt Romney lose Michigan. Clearly, this topic is so secret and discussed so quietly in the halls of not-power that it couldn’t be written without grants of complete anonymity for quotes.

I mean, everyone in Kabletown is discussing this subject at the top of every hour as we move into the week before the primary in Mitt’s home state (or one of them). You can’t turn on a political chatfest without hearing moans and cries about “what’s the party to do??” But, here’s a sample of the brave GOP operatives willing to provide quotes to CNN — but only anonymously:

“If you bring somebody new into the race, that person will lose,” said a senior GOP strategist who admits a bias towards Romney. “The party – especially conservatives – will not respond to somebody who has not gone through the process.”

Also:

“There is something called agenda control,” said one unaffiliated GOP strategist. “Santorum does not have it. Instead of talking about the economy, he’s been going down rabbit holes for the last four or five days.”

And:

“Michigan is the whole shooting match,” said one senior GOP strategist not aligned with a campaign.

Also:

Says another: “If Romney loses Michigan, all hell breaks loose.”

And:

Given that real possibility, one knowledgeable GOP source confirms that some Republicans are circulating the deadlines and the basic math that would allow another candidate to get into the nomination fight and take it all the way to the convention.

These crack reporters also employ the dreaded “some say:”

“After a while, Republican voters will start asking whether this is the guy to take on Obama,” says one GOP strategist. In addition to the fear of a potential loss to Obama, some Republicans worry about losing the House of Representatives if Santorum were at the top of the ticket.

And:

“There is no faith he would bring independent or moderate voters. If he does well on Super Tuesday you’ll have serious people talking about convention strategies etc,” one Republican congressional leadership aide told CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.

Including:

“Santorum would so alienate voters, especially women…he would be lucky to carry a dozen states,” one senior Republican told CNN, referring to Santorum’s disapproval of pre-natal screening.

Even those employed by candidates, who defend them against these accusations, are granted anonymity:

“He won in Pennsylvania, which has both Democrats and women the last time I checked,” says a senior Santorum adviser, who calls his boss a “full spectrum conservative.”

Finally, a portmanteau paragraph wraps things up for our crack CNN team:

One of the Republicans who has seen the memo said “no one is hoping that this will come to play,” regarding a new candidate entering the fray. Yet some Republican partisans feel they need to make some contingency plans depending on the outcome in coming primaries. Other veteran Republicans contacted by CNN dismissed any possibility of another candidate entering the contest at this date.

Every single one of these quoted individuals is a political operative within the GOP. Every single one of them has a motive for getting these quotes into public discourse. But CNN consumers are unable to evaluate these quotes, or the motive for providing them, because not even a whisper of the reason for granting broad anonymity is offered.

Clearly, to CNN, this topic is as sensitive as Iraq WMDs, the failure of Afghan policing, America’s drone war, or Iran’s nuke program. It cannot possibly be reported on without broadly granting anonymity to operatives of the party out-of-power, who agreed only to be characterized as “non-aligned” in their party’s wracking nomination conflict. “Non-aligned” presumably means “out-of-work” or “employed by a campaign drop-out” or “works on Capitol Hill for a GOP quaking in his boots” — but we can’t even know that, can we?

CNN does its readers no favor by publishing this article full of nonsense memes without naming its sources. This isn’t journalism — it’s campaign cocktail bar chatter. Extending anonymity to these politicos serves no one’s understanding of the political landscape. It only obscures motives, machinations, and misreadings by shadowy figures hoping to shape our understanding without revealing themselves. If this article couldn’t be written without these sweeping grants of anonymity, it probably shouldn’t have been written at all.