Public Life Has Its Hazards, But None So Deadly as the Anonymous Source

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Last week, a former longtime member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives was fired from his job as president of a private, non-profit institution whose mission is to help people cope with a certain kind of disability.

This man, now in his mid-50s, has been in public life since he was a young adult serving on the school committee in his community. Over the stretch of four decades, there was not a whisper of scandal or wrongdoing about him.

The Boston Globe published a lengthy article on the ex-legislator's termination.

In the third paragraph, persons identified only as "two officials," presumably officials affiliated with the institution, were cited as the sources of the following information:

  • One, that the institution had hired an outside attorney "to investigate concerns over inappropriate behavior" by the president.
  • Two, that the attorney had made a presentation to the institution's board of directors prior to the board voting to ask for the man's resignation, and that the presentation focused on two incidents, both of which involved the president "touching female workers."

Neither "official" was identified by name. They spoke with the reporter "only on the condition of anonymity because it involved a personnel matter," the article said.

At this, one has to scratch his head. Was the editor who approved this article totally lacking a sense of irony?

The sources of damaging information were allowed to hide in the dark, safe behind a wall of anonymity, because the topic "involved a personnel matter," while the man damaged by that information, whose personnel matter it was, had to stand in the light, exposed to whatever suspicion and scorn the public felt like heaping upon him.

In the eighth paragraph, a member of the institution's board was quoted by name as saying the president had "made many significant, positive contributions" during his tenure, but that the directors had accepted his resignation "because it collectively felt a change in leadership was appropriate."

In the thirteenth paragraph, the two anonymous officials were the sources of this rather significant item:

Law enforcement authorities have not been contacted by the school about the president's actions because they do not believe they "represented anything criminal."

All this leaves me wondering.

Has it ever been easier to slip a blade into the heart of a person's reputation than it is today?

And has it ever required less risk, less nerve to do so?

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