The Press: For Attribution

The background story, attributed to "a high Government official" or "a well-informed source," is a useful, legitimate device. It enables reporters to get enough inside information to put a story in perspective. At the same time, it protects the source from getting into trouble for divulging sensitive information. Over the years, however, too many Washington officials have become conditioned to making background material "not for attribution" through sheer force of habit. Washington Post Managing Editor Benjamin Bradlee finally decided to try to call a halt to spurious backgrounders in his paper. "Ninety percent of the information given by background," he declared,...

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