Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sharing Secrets and Anonymous Sources

When you tell someone a secret, you expect them to keep it. Everyone tells secrets, from kids on the playground, to company CEOs, to government informants. Usually, we tell secrets to those we trust, or those we think we can trust. But, there are a variety of issues that secrets can create: What is considered a secret? Where do you draw the line? If someone is considering hurting themselves or someone else, do you break your promise and tell someone? If you think that someone really needs to know what's going on, or that the person would probably tell them anyway, is it okay to share? Do you have to explicitly tell someone to keep the secret to themselves, or does it go without saying?

What about news sources? The best sources for journalists are the ones who know vital secrets and are willing to share. If they're nervous, those who fall under the "someone really needs to know what's going on, so it's okay to share" category, can impart their knowledge to the journalist with the promise of anonymity. However, the validity of anonymous sources has been a long debated issue. If we don't know who the information is coming from, how can we know that it's true? Certainly we can't just trust the journalists, right? But, it's important to remember that it was through an anonymous source known as "Deep Throat" that we found out about the Watergate scandal. In fact, he was probably one of the best kept secrets in our history. It was not until 30 years after the fact that we learned who that famous secret informant had been. If not for the bravery of Mark Felt, Nixon just might have gotten away.

I think the bigger issue here is trust. Whatever side of a secret you're on, trust is always a factor. Can we trust people with our secrets? And if so, how do we know who those people are? Are anonymous sources valid, and can we trust their information? Is it true that 'secrets, secrets are no fun...' and only complicate our lives? Maybe, but I don't think we'll stop telling secrets any time soon.

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