As I read over the news each day, I constantly encounter a word or two that, when I read them, I first think that they give credibility to the article and read on... But then I'm reminded that both are words that really means nothing. Those words are 'officials' and 'official'.
I talk to my wife, who is a journalism major, about this every once in a while. Since I wasn't regularly reading newspapers before, oh, let's say, 1988 (more like 2001), I have no idea how long this practice has been going on. But I would guess that the practice of using these words grew significantly after the Watergate scandal. For us young pups who weren't alive back then, some "official" called a reporter back then and leaked the whole story to the press about President Nixon having his people stealing some Democrat paperwork from the Watergate hotel in D.C. That "official" had a name of "Deep Throat". Of course, that reporter never told anyone who his source was, but fortunately, a slurry of evidence came forth proving that the President did indeed order the raid.
Again, this is my guessing here, but journalists everywhere probably saw this confidante witness technique used successfully and cheered, "Now I can publish anything anyone says as long as I don't say exactly who said it! What would be a good word to use here..." And the word officially became 'official'. Its definition is, roughly, someone somewhere who probably knows what they're talking about, but we won't bore you with the details of their actual name.
And call me picky, but this is probably where the downfall of modern journalism really picked up speed. I mean, really... What do you and I normally call someone who tells us some unsavory secret about somebody or something without telling us first who exactly said it first? That's right, a gossip. And isn't that what's going on in sentences like this: "Many Pentagon officials say that the War in Iraq is failing." Or "An official from the company stated that the executive was indeed having an affair." And it sounds official, doesn't it? Of course it does, that's what the word means! Some even say "senior official" to make it more legitimate.
Just for the fun of it, sometimes I like replace 'officials' with 'some dudes' and see how legitimate it sounds then. "According to some dudes down at the Justice Department, the case represents only a small facet of an intelligence-gathering operation... blah blah blah" Pssssh! Says who??
Granted, it isn't bad everywhere it's used, but there are some news stories that don't have as much as a single source outside of 'some dude' who told the reporter their thoughts and the reporter turns around and spews it to us like it was fact. How much 'news' is really gossip and opinion in a thinly-veiled disguise that appears on the surface to be vigorous fact-finding and research? Find out at 10!