Who is chanting 'Go, Fred, go'?

fred thompsonThere are plenty of reasons to believe that an unnamed candidate could generate substantial interest in the Republican Party, particularly among the evangelical voters. The current crop of main tier candidates has been disappointing to them, and they are yearning for a candidate with whom they can fall in love. At least that's the story line that journalists have been giving us lately. The big unanswered question in every one of these stories about former Senator and Law & Order actor Fred Thompson potentially running for president is this: Who is asking him to leave his lucrative acting career for the rigors of a presidential race?

Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times wrote on May 3 that conservatives are clamoring for him to run for the GOP presidential nomination, with a link to the Draft Fred Thompson website as the primary support for that assertion. My last count found 4,235 posts in support of a Thompson run for the presidency. I'm underwhelmed.

The somewhat mysterious story of the clamoring "growing crowd of conservatives" yearning for the launch of a Thompson campaign became more mysterious Monday with a seemingly well-placed story in The Washington Times that quoted a number of unnamed "leading Christian conservatives" who say they would pledge their support for a 2008 Thompson presidential run. The key here is they are unnamed and this is The Washington Times:

"It's not 'if' but 'when,' he will announce," one Protestant evangelical leader says of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering for position in the 2008 race.

A prominent Roman Catholic social conservative says the three Republicans who have raised the most money and have led the polls -- former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- fall short of social conservatives' expectations, but Mr. Thompson doesn't. "He's right on the issues ... He's better than all of the above."

Both the Protestant and Catholic activist, like other Christian conservatives, spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity.

Sources talk to reporters, especially in Washington, on "the condition of anonymity" all the time. Sometimes their words make it into print. Sometimes they don't. Generally reporters should use them only to confirm a fact. And in those cases, you need at a bare minimum two sources to confirm it. In other words, what good does it do the reader if a reporter is using an anonymous source to say something will likely happen? Or just to spout off his or her opinion?

If you can't attach your name to your prediction or don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything that you should expect a journalist to print. At least those are the rules in an ideal world. But The Times did print these speculations, and readers are left guessing who these sources are.

One thing we should be able to bank on is that the Catholic source is not Robert Novak, who would probably resent being described as an activist. But hey, that's the fun of using anonymous sources, right? You can call Dick Cheney a "senior administration official." Needless to say, Novak was underwhelmed by Thompson's performance at a California Lincoln Club event. Update: Peggy Noonan shares her thoughts in The Wall Street Journal on the possibility of a Fred Thompson presidential run.

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