What stands out about the journalism that broke Sessions' communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak? It was based on anonymous sources, and if it brings down the Trump administration, it will be one of the biggest political stories of the past 100 years. Its likely strongest competitor, Watergate, also was based largely on anonymous sources.
We can't help but notice the irony in that. We have taken considerable criticism here at Legal Schnauzer for our infrequent use of anonymous sources. In fact, our use of anonymous sources has been limited mainly to reports on the Rob Riley/Liberty Duke and Luther Strange/Jessica Medeiros Garrison extramarital affairs.
The criticism, especially after we were sued for defamation on both stories, went something like this: "Well, Legal Schnauzer presented no evidence to back up his claims about the affairs." Even The New York Times, in reporting on my unlawful incarceration from the Riley/Duke case, went down that slippery slope. Wrote reporter Campbell Robertson:
For over six years, Roger Shuler has hounded figures of the state legal and political establishment on his blog, Legal Schnauzer, a hothouse of furious but often fuzzily sourced allegations of deep corruption and wide-ranging conspiracy. . . .
Starting in January 2013, Mr. Shuler, citing unidentified sources, began writing that Robert Riley Jr., the son of the former governor, had impregnated a lobbyist named Liberty Duke and secretly paid for an abortion. Both denied it, and Ms. Duke swore in an affidavit that they had never even been alone in the same room.
Fuzzily sourced? Robertson failed to note his own newspaper's regular use of anonymous sources. He also failed to follow up with a report that my reporting, as a matter of law, was found to be neither false nor defamatory in both the Riley/Duke and Strange/Garrison lawsuits.
My sourcing, and the evidence presented, was at the same level of that in the Jeff Sessions reporting. This is the first paragraph from The Washington Post article that broke the Sessions story:
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump’s campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions’s confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
Bottom line: Post reporters based their story on anonymous sources. And no one, not even Jeff Sessions, has questioned the accuracy of their story.
Why did the Post grant anonymity to its sources? Probably because the sources, if they were named, would put their careers, maybe their lives, on the line. That's the same reason I've used anonymous sources on certain stories in Alabama's toxic political stew.
Those who are quick to criticize the use of anonymous sources might be wise to remember the Sessions story. It undoubtedly is accurate, and it likely would have never gotten to the public without anonymous sources -- and reporters who were willing to use them.