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Sen. Chris Dodd has obviously taken heat recentlyfor his perceived involvement with making it easier for AIG execs to get their bonuses.

During a recent event in Enfield, Conn.,

Dodd said that he was misled on the issue of bonuses for AIG executives. He said he would not have drafted key legislative changes allowing the bonuses to move forward if he knew the purpose of those changes.

Dodd said officials at the Treasury Department led him to believe that the changes, added to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill shortly before its passage last month, were merely "technical and innocuous" in nature. ...

Dodd said he was disappointed that the Treasury officials who asked him to make the legislative changes had not identified themselves. — CNN

The melee in trying to figure out who said what at what time and under what pretense is inconsequential. (And it is a melee. Just making sense of that CNN article is a struggle. Actually, the CNN reporter makes the same mistake as Dodd by taking action, in this case, writing an article, based on the word of an unnamed source.)

But the underlying problem, as I see it, is that Dodd didn't ask enough questions. What senior official in Congress, one charged with helping draft such an important bill to the recovery of the economy, leaves in a portion of language on the good word of an unnamed Treasury official? And why would someone in Dodd's position not ask the person to identify him/her self? Who makes decisions based on transient, faceless voices?

Also, on what grounds can a Treasury official not be identified, either in the case of a CNN reporter writing a story or a lawmaker drafting language for a stimulus bill? Public officials have no such prerogatives, and we shouldn't play nice and pretend they do. There is a case to be made, and the paper I used to work for took this escape clause more than I would have liked, but sometimes reporters are able to get sensitive information that otherwise wouldn't be available by gathering data from anonymous sources. But the problem with this practice is glaring. Should we simply tell the reader to "trust us" that this information is coming from a legitimate source? Newspapers already have enough trouble gaining the public's trust, so this is a stretch. We in the newsroom could be making up a bunch of nonsense for all anyone knows.

This problem becomes even more critical regarding lawmakers, who, on many levels, hold the public's trust in their hands, and like suspension bridges, we trust them (or at least we do in the basic sense that we trust they not to set up the next Third Reich tomorrow). Folks at newspapers, for all practical purposes, are just filling white space. Granted, reporters and editors provide a heck of a service for the communities they serve (given they are good at what they do), but the fact is, stories and photos "feed the beast," and that's really what it boils down to. But lawmakers should not take any action, however "technical and innocuous" based on the word of a nameless source. They just shouldn't.

Dodd's not a snake. I think he just made a mistake or an error in judgment, but his stumble proves a grand point: accountability is a beautiful thing. And now, the still-faceless officials who spurred him to add that bit of language are scot-free.

Originally posted to Jeremy Styron on Sun Mar 22, 2009 at 04:12 PM PDT.

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