(UPDATE: The Times public editor has notified FAIR about his email response to readers critical of the February 6 story. You can read it at the FAIR Blog).
In two stories this month, New York Times journalists allowed anonymous government officials to smear critics as terrorists and terrorist sympathizers–a shocking violation of the paper’s explicit rules against allowing anonymity to be a cover for attacks.
In a February 22 story about Khader Adnan–the Palestinian hunger striker challenging the Israeli practice of holding prisoners without trial–reporter Isabel Kershner wrote:
The “deal” is a reference to Israel’s offer to free Adnan by mid-April.
The anonymous Israeli official is declaring Adnan a terrorist. If Israeli officials know this to be the case, they need not detain him without charge; they could bring a case against him under anti-terror laws. So the Times is granting anonymity to a government official to declare Adnan a criminal, despite the lack of any publicly available evidence that this is the case.
Earlier this month, in a story (2/6/12) about a new Bureau of Investigative Journalism report about CIA drone strikes targeting rescuers and funerals, the Times granted anonymity to a U.S. official who equated the nonprofit news outlet’s researchers with Al-Qaeda sympathizers:
Both examples clearly violate the paper’s stated standards on the granting of anonymity. That privilege is to be used rarely, should be “the subject of energetic negotiation” and should “tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source.” The policy also bars granting the cover of anonymity “to people who are engaged in speculation,” and states directly: “We do not grant anonymity to people who use it as cover for a personal or partisan attack.”
In these cases, government officials are being granted anonymity to attack individuals critical of those governments’ policies. The privilege the Times extends to these powerful figures means they are shielded from any accountability for their words.
The Times‘ anonymity policy has been discussed frequently over the years (Unclaimed Territory, 11/24/05), among critics of the paper (FAIR Action Alert, 2/16/07) and even within the Times itself (3/22/09). These most recent violations suggest that the Times needs to figure out, once and for all, whether it will follow its own rules.
Contact New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane and encourage him to write about these recent violations of the Times‘ own policies on granting anonymity. Granting anonymity to government sources to smear critics is journalistically indefensible.
New York Times
Phone: (212) 556-7652