Kurtz criticizes Game Change sourcing; will anyone defend Halperin & Heilemann?

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Last week, Bob Franken led the charge in criticizing the sourcing rules Mark Halperin and John Heilemann devised for Game Change, calling their explanation of those rules "the most convoluted explanation I've heard in a long time" and adding: "There's one thing that you have to remember in Washington: You don't burn sources."

Now Washington Post/CNN media critic Howard Kurtz joins in:

"Game Change" caused an immediate furor by quoting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as having said "privately" that Obama could win the presidency because he was "light-skinned" and had "no Negro dialect." Reid apologized for the clumsy remarks, which his office confirmed he made to Halperin and Heilemann. But even with their source admitting the conversation, the authors refuse to confirm that they interviewed Reid. It's not "in the public interest," Halperin argues, for them to "get on the slippery slope" of acknowledging interviews.

Deep background means that you can describe someone's thinking or reconstruct verbatim dialogue when you're writing about events involving that person. As an author who has used the technique, I don't believe it entitles you to directly quote what someone said to you, which effectively puts it on the record, and several other journalists have said they agree.

I have not, however, seen a single journalist offer an unqualified defense of the sourcing techniques Halperin and Heilemann used. If anyone has an example, please let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: A reader points out that in an article by Politico's Michael Calderone, several journalists -- including Bob Woodward and Jonathan Alter -- broadly defended the use of anonymous sources. None, however, defended Halperin/Heilemann's treatment of the Reid quote, or the specifics of the way Game Change relied upon unnamed sources.

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Howard Kurtz, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann
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