New York Times repeats false Guardian claim about News of the World

It has been well documented that The Guardian has had to make close to 40 corrections on articles after the paper discovered there was no evidence to support its allegation that reporters at the News of the World had deleted voicemails belonging to Milly Dowler, a missing girl.

The erroneous accusation was contained in The Guardian’s explosive July expose about the phone hacking activities of News of the World staffers. Dowler was in fact murdered, and her family has said the deletion of the voicemails gave them hope at the time that she was still alive. (One of the subheads on the original Guardian story read, “Deleted voicemails gave family false hope.”)

The Guardian has faced an onslaught of criticism (here’s one recent example) from those who say its incorrect allegation was a contributing factor to the ultimate demise of the News of the World — and that its corrections fails to match the offense.

With all of the discussion and press focused on the Guardian error and corrections, you’d think we wouldn’t see the false allegation repeated in the press. But as Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici documented today, the New York Times repeated the voicemail claim in a report. Here’s the offending graph from the story:

News International’s acknowledgment that the The News of the World had hacked into [a] teenager’s phone at a time when there was still hope that she remained alive, and deleted messages left by her family and friends so as to make room for others, was a watershed in the scandal.

The article now has a correction appended:

An earlier version of this article misstated the extent of News International’s acknowledgment of its involvement in the hacking of the voicemail of a teenage murder victim, Milly Dowler, in 2002. The company  has acknowledged hacking the girl’s phone — not deleting her messages.

Bercovici wrote:

Good luck getting readers to stop buying the juicy but wrong version when even journalists covering the saga can’t seem to keep it straight. As I’ve noted before, when it comes to News Corp. and phone hacking, a lot of people seem willing to believe the very worst, even when the evidence is clearly lacking.

As background, here’s the correction placed at the bottom of the original Guardian report:

An article about the investigation into the abduction and death of Milly Dowler (News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone during police hunt, 5 July, page 1) stated that voicemail “messages were deleted by [NoW] journalists in the first few days after Milly’s disappearance in order to free up space for more messages. As a result friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive.” Since this story was published new evidence – as reported in the Guardian of 10 December – has led the Metropolitan police to believe that this was unlikely to have been correct and that while the News of the World hacked Milly Dowler’s phone the newspaper is unlikely to have been responsible for the deletion of a set of voicemails from the phone that caused her parents to have false hopes that she was alive, according to a Metropolitan police statement made to the Leveson inquiry on 12 December.

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  • http://www.CraigSilverman.ca CraigSilverman

    Thanks for your comment, Barry. My understanding is investigators have said here is no evidence to suggest the NoW journalists deleted the Dowler voicemails. To me, that means as of this moment it is a false claim. That’s why the paper has issued so many corrections. The fact that there isn’t evidence to support the accusation of deletion doesn’t mean there is a “lack of evidence” to support the Guardian claim. In my book, no evidence means it isn’t true.

  • Barry Cowden

    To be scrupulously fair, the Guardian’s accusations are no more proven false than the claims that VM messages were deleted, there is simply a lack of evidence to support either claim, and on that basis, YOUR article is false!