The New York Times Takes On MH370 Anonymous Sourcing

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 18 2014 8:21 PM

The New York Times Takes On MH370 Anonymous Sourcing

479273823-personnel-of-indonesias-national-search-and-rescue
Indonesia's National Search and Rescue personnel check a map during the search in the Andaman sea for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014.

Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images

The New York Times is outing itself. The paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, launched a new series on her blog today to track instances of Times articles referencing anonymous sources. She’s calling the effort “AnonyWatch” (alternative name suggestions welcome).

Today’s installment, which comes as anonymous sourcing runs rampant across the media in its quest for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 answers, highlights a couple examples from the Gray Lady. Here’s one in which an unnamed pilot hypothesizes about unconfirmed information on MH370’s flight path:

In a news story about the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, there’s this anonymous quotation, commenting on a suggestion (also anonymously sourced) that someone may have piloted the aircraft to as high as 45,000 feet, above the 43,100-foot ceiling for the Boeing 777. The passage reads:
“A current Boeing 777-200 pilot for an Asian-based airline said the move could have been intended to depressurize the cabin and render the passengers and crew unconscious, preventing them from alerting people on the ground with their cellphones. ‘Incapacitate them so as to carry on your plan uninterrupted,’ the pilot said.”
Advertisement

Sullivan writes that she asked the paper’s managing editor, Dean Baquet, for his view on the article. Baquet called it a “mistake to let an anonymous source speculate in this way.” Only when there is no other way for a reporter to include crucial information, Sullivan concludes, is the practice acceptable. So, she says, “it seems that some firm reminders to editors are in order.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.