Politicians, sadly, don't generally follow the same sort of rules as journalists. Heck... journalists don't seem to follow the same sorts of rules that they're supposed to much anymore when it comes to things like anonymous sources and quoting what politicians say to them without permission.
But journalists are in the business of selling papers and pleasing their editors, not garnering support. So when a journalist uses an anonymous source, there is at least that.
When a politician sites an anonymous source, it's a whole different story. They don't have an editor breathing down their neck that will fire them if it turns out the source was fake. They just see an opening, and can just make things up for all we know. They could also be telling the truth, but they aren't exactly reputed for their honesty.
Harry Reid may well be telling the truth when he says that an old investor in Bain Capital told him that Mitt didn't pay any taxes for 10 years, but since we can't verify it, all it is is pure conjecture to us. That is... pure conjecture that Reid was told this or not... not even that Reid was shown any sort of evidence.
Reid's been known to say some out there things from time to time but Romney doesn't have any high ground to complain here. All he'd have to do to disprove the theory, and embarass Reid, would be to (FINALLY) release his tax returns.
Empty conjecture on one side... and a horrible lack of transparency on the other (well... Nancy Pelosi also hasn't released her's either, but cops out by trying to pretend like that's okay since she's not running for president). It's no wonder Romney's likeability numbers are staying stubbornly low, and no wonder that Republicans have had so much success using Reid and Pelosi as punching bags.
Our representatives in Congress do have to fill out financial disclosure forms, but the information that is made public is, to say the least, vague. That the tradition of releasing tax returns doesn't (yet... hopefully it will soon, or be forced into place by law) fall on those in Congress is no excuse our times of exploding special interest money.
It's sad that there isn't a single major player in Washington that is clean on this issue. Obama gave up any chance of high ground when he became the first major presidential candidate to forgo partial public funding in 2008, and ceded it permanently with actions like giving so many of his major fundraising bundlers positions in his administration, on influential government boards and in ambassador slots.
So much of the attention on corruption related issues is having the air sucked out of them by Citizens United, but there are a whole slew of other angles that are being ignored. How can we even begin to know whether candidates are being honest about their financial ties to potential corruptible interests if we don't know where they're making their money?
Financial transparency ought to be the law of the land for all federally elected officials and managerial appointees. You can quibble about how far back the transparency should go, but it needs to be there for the American people to be able to tell if people who wish to represent them are what they appear to be.
And while we're at it, we should make campaigns release their bundler lists (personally, I'd outlaw bundling or not allow them to have any position at all for a decade or so after), so we know for certain who is buying the most influence with the people who are going to disappoint us for the next two years.