Guardian Columnist Defends NY Times On Use Of Anonymous Sources

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Roy Greenslade, pictured above in a screen shot detail from his column, asked "what's wrong" with the New York Times using anonymous sources to claim the News of the World had a culture of phone hacking, since the newspaper uses anonymous sources often. (Credit: The Guardian, Roy Greenslade's blog)

The Guardian’s media writer Roy Greenslade wondered Oct. 11 “what’s wrong with anonymous sources in the News of the World hacking scandal?”

Because News of the World has published many articles relying on anonymous sources, Greenslade didn’t see why The Times couldn’t publish an article claiming questionable ethics at News of the World – especially since The Times didn’t use just one or two anonymous sources, but “more than dozen former reporters and editors at News of the World” to source its allegations.

Greenslade criticized The Independent’s Stephen Glover’s Oct. 11 article on the phone hacking scandal.  Glover wrote that former News of the World editor and current communications director for UK Prime MInister David Cameron, Andy “Coulson’s enemies will need to do better than this.”  He added that “Coulson is not going to be finished off by an anonymous source.”   (The New York Times’ report used many anonymous sources).

In response, Greenslade questioned Glover’s statement.  After all, Greenslade wrote, the News of the World often uses anonymous sources to drive stories.

“Moreover, when challenged about the veracity of such stories, the response is always the same: we cannot breach the confidentiality of our sources and stick by what they have told us,” Greenslade explained.

Further, Greenslade noted that the New York Times’s report didn’t rely on just a couple of anonymous sources, but rather “a dozen former reporters and editors” from the News of the World.

“Surely a man who has lived by exploiting anonymity should not complain about anonymous sources,” Greenslade opined.

As Press Gazette reported Oct. 6,  a former News of the World features editor, Paul McMullan, admitted in an Oct. 5 City University debate that he hacked phone messages, bank records and medical records while working for the newspaper. (McMullan’s name wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times’ report.) The debate was headlined “How Far Should a Reporter go? The lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking story.”

Greenslade was one of the debaters that night, but he wasn’t debating his opinions. Rather, he went to “be the voice of the [News of the World] throughout” the debate, since no representative of the newspaper would be present.


As iMediaEthics previously reported, the New York Times published a Sept. 5 expose detailing a phone hacking scandal at the British tabloid newspaper News of the WorldThe New York Times’ report suggested that phone hacking was part of a widespread culture at the newspaper.

In response, the News of the World, which boasts itself “Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper,” accused the Times of criticizing the News of the World because of media rivalries.  The News of the World is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the Wall Street Journal, a major New York Times’ competitor. (Greenslade’s The Guardian is owned by Guardian Media Group.)

According to Vanity Fair magazine, Murdoch recently “declared war” on the New York Times, which defends its report as not motivated by competition but by a good story.

Also at issue is the role of former News of the World editor, Andy Coulson, who left his position after one of his reporters was convicted of hacking.  Coulson is currently serving as UK prime minister David Cameron’s communications director.

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Guardian Columnist Defends NY Times On Use Of Anonymous Sources

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