Privacy SOS

James Comey is outraged about anonymous quotes

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, is outraged that the New York Times  gave an al Qaeda official anonymity to discuss the Paris attacks. Outraged!

From the Times:

“Your decision to grant anonymity to a spokesperson for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula so he could clarify the role of his group in assassinating innocents, including a wounded police officer, and distinguish it from the assassination of other innocents in Paris in the name of another group of terrorists, is both mystifying and disgusting,” Mr. Comey said in a letter to The Times.

He added: “I fear you have lost your way and urge you to reconsider allowing your newspaper to be used by those who have murdered so many and work every day to murder more.”

Internet searches reveal that this is the first time James Comey has chastised the Times for printing anonymous quotes. He should look more closely at this systemic problem.

The Times routinely publishes the claims of anonymous senior government officials. This story, for example, anonymously quotes a "senior military official" and a "senior intelligence official." This story cites various "senior officials", including a "senior FBI official," discussing the Sony hack. Their names are not printed in the reports!

I could go on for days listing Times stories based on anonymous US government officials' quotes. Hardly a day goes by without the New York Times publishing discourse-shifting stories containing serious claims and allegations about US domestic and foreign issues uttered by "senior officials" in the US government who are granted anonymity.

As James Comey astutely observes, the shield of anonymity allows those granted it to "use" the newspaper to push propaganda from behind a mask. The Times should be careful not to do this, especially when the murder of young American civilians is at issue!

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.