Keller: New York Times a ‘little extra vigilant’ in policing its phone-hacking coverage

Although New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller says the Times isn’t covering a competitor in following the phone-hacking scandal — unless you use a broad definition of competitor — the paper has been careful in its reporting and presentation. “We’ve been a little extra vigilant because we don’t want to give readers the impression this is anything but a big, fascinating news story.” He also tells me that News of the World editors suggested last fall that the Times’ coverage was a conflict of interest, which “was doubly absurd.”

Here’s what he told me by email today:

Last year, when we were wrapping up our investigation of NOTW’s phone-hacking and approached the company for comment, top editors there insisted it was a conflict of interest for us to cover the story because we were a competitor. That was doubly absurd. First, if you follow that logic no one was qualified to write about Murdoch properties except other Murdoch properties. Second, it assumes a pretty expansive definition of “competitor.” Obviously we don’t compete with the London tabloids, except I guess in the sense that everyone who publishes competes for audience attention. We compete directly with the WSJ (as do other mainstream papers and business publications) but the WSJ was accused of nothing. CNN and MSNBC compete with Fox News, but Fox was accused of nothing. The BBC competes with BSkyB, and so on. So, sure, we’re all in competition with other Murdoch interests. But that’s true of just about everyone in any quarter of the communications industry.

Anyway, we are of course careful to make sure our reporting is solid, our presentation is fair, and that the tone does not suggest some kind of agenda. We do that with any story, but, yes, we’ve been a little extra vigilant because we don’t want to give readers the impression this is anything but a big, fascinating news story.

Erik Wemple writes that the Times’ editorial page also has taken a measured approach, with just two editorials.

Related: Inside the Journal newsroom, staffers are acutely aware who’s “AM” (after Murdoch) and “PM” (pre-Murdoch).  (The Daily Beast)

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