There’s only one way to describe the Ontario Press Council ruling on The Globe and Mail story about drugs and Doug Ford: lily-livered. The piece, which sprawled over two pages in May, quoted ten unnamed sources on the topic of whether Councillor Ford did or did not deal in drugs during a misspent youth. Readers complained, as well they might, about such overuse of anonymous sources.
One anonymous source in a long investigative story is plenty, two is too many, ten is ludicrous. Readers have a right to know who’s talking. The media has a responsibility to name the people who are being quoted. It’s a cardinal rule. Any other approach is a slippery slope toward full-out fabrication. If a journalist doesn’t have to name a source, how do we know the source even exists?
In this case, the Globe story did not even really prove anything about Doug Ford and said absolutely nothing at all about Mayor Rob Ford. What was the point? The story was said to have taken 18 months to research and probably would never have run except that Globe editors likely got sick and tired of reading the fine work in the Toronto Star by Kevin Donovan and Robyn Doolittle about the mayor. Globe editors dusted off their story, swallowed their doubts, and published.
The Ontario Press Council concluded that the information in the article was “reasonably reliable.” Reasonably reliable? Is this the new criteria for newspapers and investigations thereof? Would you have your furnace fixed by someone who advertised themselves as reasonably reliable?
The Ontario Press Council missed an opportunity to castigate the usage of anonymous sources and re-establish the once higher standard. From here on, journalists will feel far freer to use anonymous sources to the detriment of us all. The Council was toothless; the Globe should not have been let off the hook.