“These are not people who pull us aside because they want to screw Donald Trump,” Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s executive editor, told CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday. “These are people who are worried about the direction of government.”
Trump has repeatedly blasted the use of anonymous sources in critical stories about his administration.
During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Trump decried unnamed sources and told the crowd that the media “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”
“Let their name be put out there,” Trump added.
The comments came hours after Trump’s White House held what’s known as a background briefing with reporters, declining to use their names to respond to a CNN report about contacts between the administration and the FBI.
Stories using unnamed sources led to the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn earlier this month, for example. CNN’s story about ties between Trump aides and Russian officials during the campaign relied on information from “multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials.”
“In an administration that has expressed so much distaste for the press and so much distaste for our role, are you surprised that some of the people who want to criticize the administration want to do it without their names attached?” Baquet asked Sunday. “I’m not.”
Baquet added that Trump himself has long been familiar with the practice.
“He’s been an anonymous source throughout his career, especially when it helped him and when it burnished his reputation,” Baquet said.
Trump also cited an unnamed source while making false claims about President Obama’s birthplace. In 2012, Trump tweeted that an “extremely credible source” had told him that Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent.
Baquet said as long as the press is careful about using them, unnamed sources will continue to be an “important part” of news coverage.
“I always know who the sources are for these stories. That’s why I’m so confident pushing back at the Trump administration when they criticize the stories,” he said. “As long as the stories are accurate, as long as the stories are true, which so far has been the case, and as long as we offer the right perspective, I think that’s fine.”
–CNNMoney’s Tom Kludt contributed to this story.