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‘NYT’ Public Editor Hits Paper for ‘Terror’ Leak Article | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

‘NYT’ Public Editor Hits Paper for ‘Terror’ Leak Article


(Licensed through Creative Commons. Courtesy of Wikimedia user haxorjoe.)

Early this week I posted here about a seemingly oft-kilter (and in some ways disgraceful) New York Times piece, which sat at the top of its homepage for quite a while.

The article carried a provocative headline and subheds (one claiming the damage was worse than that caused by Edward Snowden). And it was lightly, and anonymously, sourced. As I wrote:

Yesterday morning the top story at the New York Times site reported on US analysts feeling that the early-August leak to the media on how Al Qaeda communicates had done more to harm our anti-terrorism effort than anything revealed by Edward Snowden. You remember: we briefly closed some of our embassies, for starters.

And the Times quickly recounted how it refused to publish the names that were key in the information, at the request of the government, and only did so after our security folks had given them clearance—after the McClatchy news outlet went with it.

The next day I followed up with McClatchy’s heated response.

Now the Times’s fine public editor Margaret Sullivan has added her prominent voice, in a blog post at the paper that takes the reporter and editor to task. Its title: “An Unacceptable Headline Atop a Questionable Article.” (Yes, she links to my piece.)

It’s hard to know where to start with the lead article in Monday’s Times. In it, anonymous government sources—described in the vaguest possible way (for example, “one United States official”)—are unquestioningly allowed to play their favorite press-bashing hand, featuring the national security card. In so doing, they seem to take a swipe at a news organization that competes with The Times….

She adds:

After all, I’m on the record, repeatedly and perhaps tiresomely, about: 1) the overuse of anonymous sources; 2) setting the bar too low for agreeing to government requests to withhold information (despite some recent encouraging signs to the contrary); 3) the tendency to treat non-Times journalistic efforts with a lack of respect.

The paper’s copy director admits in a note that the headline was a mistake. But Sullivan adds, “That’s a good start in addressing the problems of this article, its sourcing and its placement.” Perhaps that means she will return to that attack on McClatchy in an update or separate post.  UPDATE: She has now received a comment from an editor claiming piece was not meant to be a dig at McClatchy.

Yesterday morning the top story at the New York Times site reported on US analysts’ feeling that the early-August leak to the media on how Al Qaeda communicates had done more to harm our anti-terrorism effort than anything revealed by Edward Snowden. You remember: we briefly closed some of our embassies, for starters.

And the Times quickly recounted how it refused to publish the names that were key in the information, at the request of the government, and only did so after our security folks had given them clearance—after the McClatchy news outlet went with it.

Greg Mitchell unpacks the increasingly heated New York Times-McClatchy leaks dispute.

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