Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Nicholas Jones explains how the growth in non-attributed quotes and stories based on anonymous sources is eating away at the probity of British journalism:

My heart goes out to that unsung hero who never falters when faced by journalists desperate for an eye witness quote. Once I see those three all-important words -- "an onlooker said..." -- I know I wont be disappointed.

Indeed I have become the "onlooker’s" greatest fan. And, anorak that I am, I have started keeping a file on what the "onlooker" says.

Speech to Press Intergroup, European Parliament, Strasbourg, 27.9.2006

British newspaper front pages for the 19th of July 2003 tell the story of the tragic suicide of Dr David Kelly, who at the time of his death was Britain’s leading authority on biological warfare. I believe Dr Kelly was perhaps the most significant confidential source of information in British journalism in recent times, at least in the years I have been a reporter. But behind the front-age headlines, there is another untold story, of a black day in British journalism.

What we witnessed in just a few weeks was a collective failure by the British news media to protect a source of information whose importance I suggest stands alongside that of Mark Felt, the former deputy director of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, who a year ago finally admitted he was the celebrated "deep throat" in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Remember, that affair brought down President Nixon. And, yes, with the hindsight of recent political history, I am seeking to make out the case that if the journalists of the BBC had adopted that same considered, step-by-step approach which was followed by the reporters of the Washington Post, then who knows, Dr Kelly’s insights during the early months of 2003 might well have been enough to have triggered the downfall of Tony Blair. Yes, a British Prime Minister might also have suffered the same fate as an American President.

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