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Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

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Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.

Welcome to another debate season! I’m disappointed that we’re starting off with such a bad topic. It’s not that the area of discussion is bad, but the topic is worded terribly. The question that not telling someone a person’s name is or is not a “right” is not a good one. Everyone obviously has the right to say what they want, so to say that a journalist doesn’t have the right to reveal someone’s name is ridiculous and unenforceable. What’re you going to do? Prevent the article from running in the paper if there isn’t a named source? Obviously that can’t happen. But alas, we have to debate what we’re given, not what we want to debate. So let’s get to it.


Reporters – Don’t think too much about this. A reporter is basically someone who reports the news. This includes journalists of all types.

Identity – Some people may try to define identity very precisely. Simply put, though, this is an identification of who a person is. It’s not just a name, but can also be a description that points to one particular person. For example, if I said “the attorney general of the U.S.” that would be akin to identifying the person.

Confidential Sources – In journalism, people often provide information to the reporter. The people are called sources. If that person’s identity isn’t revealed, it’s a confidential source.

Ought – This is the most important word of the resolution. Ought means should, and to develop a framework for your case, you’ll need to identify how we determine what the United States government ought to do.

Case Positions


1. Utilitarianism – Allowing confidential sources is the most utilitarian approach. It leads to the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. Otherwise, you end up with a lack of people wanting to come forward with information, and you also end up with people’s lives inappropriately being affected just for telling the truth.

2. Freedom of Speech – It’s actually impossible for source confidentiality not to be a right. What is the option to enforce? Are you going to torture journalists? Are you going to limit what can and cannot be printed in the press? These would all be violations of the freedom of speech the United States is founded upon.

3. Correspondence Theory – Any truth proposition, like the resolution, must be weighed against already accepted truths to determine its truth. When we weigh the resolution against things we already accept to be true like freedom of speech, the value of a free speech, and democratic ideals, we find that the truth of the resolution is evident.


1. What is a right? – Source confidentiality can’t function as a right. Rights, like freedom to protest, function as claims against others – either claims to not interfere or claims to confer some benefit. Neither of these apply to source confidentiality in journalism. Because it can’t be a right, the resolution essentially doesn’t work. We can’t say something that’s impossible “ought to be.”

2. Moral Progress – There are schools of philosophy which propose that a society’s moral progress is only possible through the most direct moral conflict. Source confidentiality prevents that from happening. Without confidential sources, though, the moral conflict in a society would be exacerbated, thus contributing to more rapid moral progress.

Well, that’s it. I hope that helps get you started. Good luck, and don’t forget to check out the academy if you need help!


6 thoughts on “Resolved: In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources.”

  1. Sara says:

    Hi, LD debater here, and a huge fan of your site. I normally go here first, to get an idea for my framework for the latest resolution, but perhaps you misread or misinterpreted the reso? Forgive me for being so forward, but from your intro to your second value criterion, but the way you address the reso—”In the United States, reporters ought to have the right to protect the identity of confidential sources”—it sounds as if you’re refuting the idea that reporters have the right to use confidential sources altogether. Am I crazy? Am I misunderstanding something horribly? Please help.

    1. Nick says:

      I think it all depends on how you alone interpret the resolution. It’s not very specific in that it allows for a lot of different interpretations.

    2. sxa255 says:

      Hi Sara,

      Thanks for reading, and sorry it took me so long to respond; I haven’t been getting notifications about comments. You’re right that I’m making that argument, but it’s done has a critique of the resolution (a K). Basically, the resolution is asking us to do something that isn’t possible. Confidentiality cannot function as a “right,” and therefore, the resolution doesn’t work.

      Hope that helps!

    3. Ld debater says:

      Hey Sara,

      Now I don’t think that you misinterpreted, I think it was how you and the author might of disagreed on the topic and it made you think that.

  2. D says:

    I’m still confused… can someone explain the correspondence theory to me and how it connects to the resolution?

    1. sxa255 says:

      Correspondence states that the truth of any moral proposition can be found in its coherence with other moral truths. Basically, moral truths shouldn’t really contradict each other. Confidentiality/privacy are expected norms in society. Similarly, the popular consensus is that sources should be allowed to remain confidential. You can find other examples as well. The idea, though, is that confidentiality coheres well with other established moral truths.

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