Republican gubernatorial hopeful Tom Foley insisted Thursday that his reliance on unnamed sources to support accusations against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration follows the traditional “journalistic standard.”
But a past president of one of the nation’s oldest and largest journalists’ associations said the Greenwich businessman’s approach doesn’t appear to match the scrutiny professional reporters are expected to demonstrate.
Journalism professor Kevin Z. Smith, who still chairs the National Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee, also said, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of” a politician citing anonymous sources in a campaign attack. “I find it to be intriguing.”
Foley launched an exploratory committee last week by alleging that the Malloy administration acted improperly, though not illegally, on four instances — accusations the governor and his team have denied. Three of those charges relied on unnamed sources.
And during a Thursday morning appearance on “Where We Live,” WNPR’s weekday public affairs program, Foley again defended his approach.
“I’m actually quite surprised the media’s had the reaction that they’ve had,” he told host John Dankosky. “The journalistic standard is two reliable sources is enough to bring a story into the public domain.”
Foley said The Hartford Courant cited sources in some of the articles that exposed the bid-rigging scandal that ultimately sent former Gov. John G. Rowland to federal prison. “They didn’t have proof,” he said. “These were (based) on reliable sources.”
The gubernatorial hopeful also pointed to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporters whose reporting on the Watergate scandal ultimately toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon.
“As you look at Woodward and Bernstein, probably the benchmark journalists that set the standard,” Foley said, in some articles it “was only a single reliable source.”
Foley claimed that:
- Malloy, while running for governor three years ago, did consulting work for Daniel Esty, whom Malloy named commissioner of energy and environmental protection in 2011.
- An unnamed administration official pressured the UConn Foundation into its decision to pay for the governor’s trip to a world economics forum in Davos, Switzerland.
- Municipal leaders think their chances of obtaining state aid are enhanced if they hire Pullman & Comley, a firm that once employed Malloy’s former general counsel, Andrew McDonald.
Foley’s fourth accusation was that it was inappropriate for the state’s health care exchange to award a marketing contract to Global Strategy, a communications firm that employs Roy Occhiogrosso, a top adviser to Malloy during his campaign and who was an administration official for two years.
“Whether these things are illegal or not, they stink, they smell,” Foley said on the radio.
But the SPJ’s position paper on anonymous sources says it’s not enough for a reporter to find confidential informers. A journalist “should use every possible avenue to confirm and attribute information before relying on (these) unnamed sources.”
When asked whether he tried to find sources he could cite publicly to confirm his accusations, Foley told The Mirror he hadn’t because “I’m not a journalist.”
Then why cite a journalistic standard to defend the validity of the charges?
“I think it’s a sufficient standard,” Foley responded.
“That is not the way most journalists behave,” Smith said. “That is not the way ethical journalists behave.”
The society, which was founded in 1909 and has about 9,000 members, also urges reporters to question sources’ motives.
“Some are willing to provide information only when it benefits them,” the position paper states. “When someone asks to provide information off the record, be sure the reason is not to boost (his or) her own position by undermining someone else’s, to even the score with a rival, to attack an opponent or to push a personal agenda.”
Smith, a professor of journalism at Ohio State University, noted that the society’s code of ethics urges journalists to “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” As a potential candidate for governor, Foley’s journalistic perspective has the appearance of a conflict.
“I can sense (Foley’s) frustration,” Smith said. “The media doesn’t always use anonymous sources well.” With the ever-present deadlines of digital and social media, rushed and “sketchy journalism” is too common, the SPJ official added. “The public sees that and just thinks that is standard operating procedure for journalists.”
Foley told The Mirror that an analysis of the “journalism standard” he cited is “a diversion from the real issue.
“If I’m right, the sources of my information don’t matter. This administration has shown a pattern of behavior that has allowed public confidence to erode. The media should be focused on that.”