Sunday Times Editor: If You Have Questions About Our Snowden Story, Address Them To UK Government

from the you're-making-this-worse dept

So we already wrote about the absolutely ridiculous Sunday Times piece which claimed that Russia and China had “cracked” the encryption Snowden used on his documents (or, maybe, he gave them to them…) and thus all hell had broken loose and the UK had to remove “agents” from Moscow. Of course there were all sorts of holes in the story, which didn’t make much sense. All of the “evidence” was just anonymous quotes from government officials, much of which contradicted itself. And, of course, there were the outright factual errors. When finally confronted about this, the reporter who wrote the story, Tom Harper, admitted straight up, that he was just “just publishing what we believe to be the position of the British government.” When questioned about the evidence, he said that you shouldn’t challenge him, but the UK government — as if his job as a “reporter” was just to write down what they said, not actually search for the truth.

It appears that this attitude — “we are stenographers for the government, rather than reporters seeking evidence and truth” — comes straight from the top at the Sunday Times. Someone emailed Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens pointing out the many problems with the article, and got a short reply that says that all of these questions should be taken up with the British government, rather than the Sunday Times. Really.

Dear Mr Douglas,

I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.

Yours faithfully


There are… so many problems with this, but let’s just address the two big ones. First, in suggesting that they ask the British Government (10 Downing St.), Ivens is flat out admitting what his reporter said earlier in the week: they were just acting as stenographers, and have no independent evidence to back up the story they wrote. That’s not the role of a journalist. A journalist is supposed to be seeking out the truth. Yet, here, Ivens is basically saying that the Sunday Times has no evidence to back up its claims.

The second big problem is the “if you think they have lied to us then so be it.” That, also, is an astounding statement for a journalist to take. If someone tells a journalist that you got a story wrong and your sources lied to you, the last reaction you should have is “so be it.” The reaction should be “oh shit” and then revisiting the issue carefully to make sure you actually got the story right. Instead, here, the Sunday Times position is “meh, who cares.” Incredible.

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Comments on “Sunday Times Editor: If You Have Questions About Our Snowden Story, Address Them To UK Government”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

Did Ivens actually admit that those ‘anonymous sources’ were from 10 Downing Street, or is he such a tool that he does not realize his admission?

It must be a real conundrum to be a journalist these days. There is a constant tension between integrity vs paycheck. Oh, wait…that means that the integrity part of the equation actually exists. That might be a problem.

David says:

Re: Anonymous Source = 10 Downing Street

Did Ivens actually admit that those ‘anonymous sources’ were from 10 Downing Street, or is he such a tool that he does not realize his admission?

It doesn’t sound like much of an admission to me.

It’s more or less “my belief in this story is as solid as the gun pointed at my head”. It’s a pretty clear statement that they have been forced into publishing this item but he is not going to pretend to believe it.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Truth and Duty

In the US the media has no legal responsibility to tell the truth, and can lie as they wish — so says SCOTUS.

There is an ethical imperative for journalists to tell the truth, just as there are many occupations which have critical, though not legal obligations to tell the truth.

Do you really want to live in a world where there is no reasonable ability to depend on the word of others?

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, in an extreme case the UK newspaper the “News of the World” was forced to close down in 2011 due to some of their “journalists” being found guilty of hacking peoples phones to get inside scoops. Some even went to prison.

It may not surprise you too much if I say that the “News of the World” and the subject of this Techdirt article “The Sunday Times/The Times” are both owned by the same company – News Corp aka Rupert Murdock.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Some even went to prison.” Well only the disposable ones did.

The Editor in Chief got a platinum parachute & now has a new job in the USA as she is Rupert’s Wonder Woman.

As for the article, of course Limited News is a government spoke-piece, without Rupert the RWNJ side of politics would never get into power in the first place in the UK or Australia.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Other than restrictions to not defame or libel journalists have no responsibility other than those they wish to take upon themselves.”

I couldn’t disagree more. Journalists absolutely have a responsibility to seek and report truth. If they don’t do so, then they aren’t journalists.

I sense that you may be talking about legal obligations, though. I think that “responsibility” is a separate and distinct concept from “legality”.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

The job of the tabloids

The `job’ of the (British) tabloids is to publish the most outrageous headlines and print pictures of scantily clad women, everybody knows that. (Yes that second part is sexist). The content of the articles does not really matter.

Although it is not journalism, the reaction perfectly fits this section of the press. Even if it is rather pathethic.

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