“Anonymous” China sourcing at the New York Times.

Say you’re a member of an ethnic minority group that the Chinese government suspects is planning terror attacks during the Beijing Olympics. And say you own a restaurant around the corner from the National Stadium. One day, a researcher from the New York Times shows up and asks if you’d be willing to talk about the harassment you’ve been receiving from the local government. You know better, of course, than to talk to those shady foreign journalists (especially about minority affairs and anything negative about the Olympics), but the situation has become so intolerable that you agree to make a few comments on the condition that the New York Times not identify you. A few days later, the article appears online, with this paragraph:

The owner of the Xinjiang Kashgar Restaurant near the main Olympic venue said he shut down Tuesday after repeated visits from officials who cited health concerns. He said several other Muslim restaurants nearby had received similar visits. The owner, a Uighur, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear that he would be further harassed by the authorities.

[UPDATE 8/5: Somewhere in the night, the New York Times decided to cover its rear end (thanks to several readers and comments for pointing this out). The last sentence of the offending passage was changed to read:

The owner, a Uighur, asked not to be identified by name for fear that he would be further harassed by the authorities.

New, updated post available here.]

15 thoughts on ““Anonymous” China sourcing at the New York Times.

  1. Why didn’t the times just go ahead and print his address and mobile too? So long as his name isn’t used they wouldn’t be breaking any promises. Total a**ho***. Goes for the writers AND the editors.

  2. That’s what you get for talking to journos. Reminds me of a story from around the time Wei J*ngsh*ng was expatriated to the US, a journo went to the Beijing zoo and asked an old guy working there if he knew Wei back in the day. “Never heard of him,” the guy answered, “and don’t ask me any more political questions.”

  3. Adam – there goes your future employment with the NYT.

    Seriously what really pisses me off about this debacle is that the NYT has just handed China’s media thugs a propaganda coup. As if people weren’t already worried about talking to foreign reporters, this should seal the deal. Foreign Reporters Can’t Be Trusted, and here’s the proof, courtesy of the NYT.

    I don’t know about suing the NYT, but some people should be fired over this, beginning with the editor who let it through. But Bradshear and Wong need to be on the hook, too.

  4. Edward Wong is the New York Times reporter in Beijing whose article mentions the poor Uigher restaurant owner right after this paragraph:
    “Chinese officials are warning of at least one other group fomenting unrest among the Uighur. Xinhua has reported that an international Sunni group called Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, whose goal is to re-establish an Islamic empire across Asia, was responsible for organizing protests in late March in the western city of Khotan that involved hundreds of people.”

  5. Dan is right that there should be a lawsuit. The gentleman that the paper outed has an actionable claim already, and it will become a much more expensive one for the NYT after he loses his business and/or does time in jail. I for one will be very curious to see how the paper handles this. Will they be their arrogant old selves. Or will they acknowledge that their slipshod editing might have just destroyed somebody who did nothing more than make the mistake of talking to one of their reporters.

  6. To be technically accurate, the owner simply said he was shut down after visits from the health authority. Those words could only be used to indicate how sanitized his restaurant is. It is up to the NYT to spin source information to accommodate its own agenda.

  7. Interesting, it now reads:

    “The owner, a Uighur, asked not to be identified by name for fear that he would be further harassed by the authorities.”

    That slight change allows them to technically say “well, we didn’t use his name…”

  8. Whether the original text of the article making it easy to identify the source appeared in NYT by intent, as you suggest in your piece Adam, or incompetence or negligence, NYT’s lack or professional standards and ethics is a disgrace, most importantly because the Uighur mentioned could indeed suffer real reprisals.

  9. @tm: That’s not a change, that what it said in the first place!
    @hans: The NYT reported it straightforwardly, and said that the restaurant was shut down after visits from the health authorities. Your saying “Those words could only be used to indicate how sanitized his restaurant is” is ridiculous. Why are the authorities cracking down now? Why these kinds of restaurants and not others? It’s very common for the authorities to selectively enforce the laws and regulations to further their own agendas (and not just in China, of course).

    In defense of the NYT, as Micah Sittig points out, “Xinjiang Kashkar” isn’t the name of the restaurant, it’s the name of a place, therefore a cuisine. And they didn’t release his name, so there’s really no way for the Chinese authorities to know with any certainty which restaurant owner it was. And besides, all he said was that he’d been shut down — I can’t imagine he’ll be retaliated against (and I’d say that I’m way above average in paranoia of the chicoms). The authorities have other fish to fry.

  10. You guys are silly, James Fallows blog too. nobody was ID’d. the Times reporter is smart, he/she wrote it that way but the real person they spoke to was not that person they described. get over it you Times bashers. the real story is commie China is running the hitler Ollies of 1936 this time in 2008 and you are fretting about a frigging NYtimes story graf? You are dummies. Face the reality of the USSR of China and go after that, not the Times. What is this, blue state red state all over again?

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