I Counted 14 Quotes From Anonymous Sources In This Vanity Fair Story

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) calls on reporters with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House October 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and McConnell tried to erase reporting that they were not on the same page with the GOP legislative agenda and priorities. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Vanity Fair's Gaberiel Sherman published a bombshell story Wednesday saying the president's allies fear that impeachment or removal from office is a real possibility.

MSNBC covered Sherman's bombshell report as "breaking news."

When I was reading the story, I started counting up all of the anonymous sources Sherman quotes. It was a rare instance for Sherman actually to name his source. There were two instances where sources went on the record: former Trump aide Sam Nunberg and Trump ally Roger Stone. The rest were based on conversations with people close to the administration or who were briefed on some phone call.

Here are all the instances, Sherman uses anonymous sources for his explosive 956-word report:

  1. "The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president."
  2. "For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared."
  3. "One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up."
  4. "The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller."
  5. "‘Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,'" one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. "‘He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?'"
  6. "According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far."
  7. "Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call."
  8. "When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation."
  9. "One Republican explained Trump’s best chance for survival is to get his poll numbers up."
  10. "‘The establishment has proven time and time again they will f— Trump over,' a Bannon ally told me."
  11. "In a series of phone calls with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, Bannon told the president to shake up the legal team by installing an aggressive lawyer above Cobb, according to two sources briefed on the call."
  12. "‘Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal,' a Bannon confidant told me. ‘He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.'"
  13. "Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office."
  14. "‘One thing Steve wants Trump to do is take this more seriously,' the Bannon confidant told me. ‘Stop joking around. Stop tweeting.'"

Using anonymous sources isn't a bad thing for reporters. It's sometimes necessary. But Sherman takes it to the next level. One paragraph has three sources saying different things:

It is also unclear how many sources are actually cited in Sherman's story. For example, he cites a "Bannon confidant" as well as a "Bannon ally." Are they the same person?

This isn't the first time Sherman has published White House intrigue based on anonymous sources.

Once, he reported that officials speculated what Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly might do if Trump ordered a nuclear strike.

"One former official even speculated that Kelly and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have discussed what they would do in the event Trump ordered a nuclear first strike. ‘Would they tackle him?' the person said," Sherman wrote.

In the same story, Sherman speculated that Kelly was unhappy at the White House and would soon leave or be fired from his job. The story was shared on cable news and by reporters on Twitter:

Two senior Republican officials said Chief of Staff John Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision. Today, speculation about Kelly’s future increased after Politico reported that Kelly’s deputy Kirstjen Nielsen is likely to be named Homeland Security Secretary—the theory among some Republicans is that Kelly wanted to give her a soft landing before his departure.

The next day, Kelly appeared at the White House press briefing and contradicted Sherman's reporting.

According to my sources within the media, reporters rely on anonymous sources only if it drives a specific narrative about Trump.