The News of the World has insisted that the New York Times has “failed to provide any new evidence” to support its “very serious allegations” about phone-hacking at the British Sunday red-top newspaper.
Yesterday the NYT published online the results of a five-month investigation into the News of the World which had been conducted by three reporters it has had based in London.
In a detailed response posted on NYTimes.com, NoW managing editor Bill Akass questioned the US newspaper’s motives and responded in detail to the new charges.
Akass told the NYT: “It seems to us that your investigation has always been tainted by a vested interest in its outcome which means it is in serious and multiple breach of your own ethical guidelines.”
The NYT is a commercial rival of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation which, as well as owning the News of the World, runs the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
The NYT investigation into phone-hacking had stated: “A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World”. It also quoted a “longtime-reporter” who said: “Everyone knew. The office cat knew.”
Matt Driscoll, a former News of the World sports reporter who won an £800,000 tribunal payout after complaining he was bullied, told the NYT he had been shown private phone records belonging to the footballer Rio Ferdinand by a senior editor.
Akass said that Driscoll “had a very difficult relationship with the newspaper”.
He said: “[His] termination was later challenged at an employment tribunal in an acrimonious case which we vigorously defended, but which Mr Driscoll won. This should, I hope, make you exercise caution in your assessment of what Mr Driscoll has told you.”
Akass added: “You should also exercise extreme caution in your approach to what you are told by any ‘former reporters and editors’ and your readers should be made aware of any reasons why their views may be biased.
“I would ask you to consider, for example, what your reaction would be were Jayson Blair to make allegations now to a rival newspaper group about editorial practices and the culture at the New York Times, given that he left the paper approximately five years ago and a new editorial and executive team has been installed?
“As a general point, we reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that the activities of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire, at the time of their arrest, were part of a ‘culture’ of wrong-doing at the News of the World and were specifically sanctioned or accepted at senior level in the newspaper.
“We equally reject absolutely any suggestion or assertion that there has continued to be such a culture at the newspaper. At the time of those arrests, and subsequently, we co-operated with the authorities in their investigations (which resulted in criminal convictions which were followed by the then editor taking responsibility and stepping down), just as we co-operated with the CMS select committee in its extensive inquiry last year.”
The NYT report quoted a named source it described as a former News of the World journalist, Sean Hoare, who said he hacked the phone messages of David and Victoria Beckham.
The NYT also reported that in recent months a phone company had alerted a television personality that someone called her mobile phone in a possible unauthorized attempt to access her voicemail. It said that the number was traced to a reporter at the News of the World.
On this point Akass said: “A serious allegation has been made about the conduct of one of our reporters.
“We have followed our internal procedures and the reporter has been suspended from reporting duties, and a very thorough and extensive investigation carried out into that allegation (involving, for example, external forensic specialists).
“The allegation is the subject of litigation and our internal investigation continues in tandem with that, which means I am unable to comment further. If the conclusion of the investigation or the litigation is that the allegation is proven, the reporter will be dismissed for gross misconduct without compensation.”
He added: “We have a zero-tolerance approach to any wrong-doing and will take swift and decisive action if we have proof of any wrong-doing.”
Akass concluded by requesting that the NYT Standards Editor “investigate whether your conduct is in breach of your own ethical guidelines on impartiality, neutrality, honest treatment of competitors, reader benefit, conflict of interest and professional detachment ‘free of any whiff of bias’.”
He said: “Those guidelines state that your journalism ‘should be beyond reproach’. Manifestly, that is not the case hereâ€¦.What clearer conflict of interest is there than devoting such enormous resources over five months to investigating one of a rival group’s newspapers and then seeking to publish unsubstantiated claims about that newspaper?”