In a Thursday morning post at her official blog, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, expressed profound displeasure with a recent Times piece on national security and al-Qaida, calling its headline “unacceptable” and questioning its use of anonymous sources.
“It’s hard to know where to start with the lead article in Monday’s Times,” Sullivan writes. “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.”
Sullivan also criticizes the piece for allowing anonymous officials to “take a swipe at a news organization that competes with the Times.” (In this case, McClatchy Newspapers.)
More from Sullivan:
[S]tarting at the top, here is the main headline, in the upper-right corner of The Times, which is probably the most prominent position in world media: “Qaeda Plot Leak Has Undermined U.S. Intelligence.”
One might ask: Says who? Well, failing the presence of any attribution, one can only conclude that it’s The Times itself making this interesting statement.
Surely the subheadlines will address that problem? Well, no. “Militants Alter Tactic,” says the first. And the best of all: “Disclosure Caused More Damage Than Vast Snowden Trove.” Not a shred of attribution among the three – just straight from the mouths of anonymous government sources into the automatic credibility conferred by the paper of record’s front page. The headline on the inside page echoes those on the front.
Ultimately, Sullivan receives an apology from the Times’ Patrick LaForge, the copy desk editor, who writes in an email that the headline was “not up to [the New York Times'] standards.”