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July 7, 2005
Newsweek Does Not Protect Its Sources, Either

With all of the current debate on the responsibility and rights of the American press to protect its anonymous sources, one would think that media organizations would have a clear understanding about what constitutes confidentiality. However, a CQ reader has recently found out first-hand that not all media outlets take care to keep their confidential sources anonymous. Michael Sanders, the director of Expeditions and Research at the Ancient Cultures Research Foundation, sent an e-mail to Jon Meacham at Newsweek giving him a tip on research that supports the idea that the ancient Hebrew temple in Jerusalem was not built on the Temple Mount, but elsewhere in the city:

In the recent issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review and in private correspondence, David Ussishkin, the doyen of Israel archaeologists is quite adamant in his conclusion that the Jerusalem of King Solomon did NOT extend further than the central portion of the City of David.

That has profound confirmation of my thesis that the Temple could NEVER have been on the Temple Mount but rather it and later versions were built in the City of David in their more logical position over the Gihon Spring.

We now have the two leading Biblical scholars of the last 50 years, he and David Noel Freedman supporting my thesis which as you know has profound implications for the Peace Process.

My Peace plan is in the briefing papers of Jim Wolfensohn and is being widely discussed in Europe and is receiving more and more attention by players in the region including Hamas as it appears that The Road Map is going the same way as Oslo and for the same reason.

May I suggest that someone at Newsweek review the Temple thesis on BIbleMysteries.com and I would be please to send you the copy of The Plan for your information.

Obviously, this has tremendous political and foreign-policy implications, as the identification of Temple Mount as the location of the Solomonic temple impacts Israeli insistence on maintaining its sovereignty over that part of Jerusalem. Because of the sensitive nature of the issue, Sanders sent the e-mail to Meacham with the subject header stating clearly, "Background Only: Temples of Jerusalem and the Peace Process". He did not want his name used in order to keep out of the political debate, at least until he was ready to address it.

So how does Newsweek handle "background only" tips from informed sources? According to Sanders, Newsweek journalists use the tips to out the sources to their colleagues. Sanders discovered this when Juliet Chung used Sanders' name as a reference to one of the people named in his essay. Sanders got a copy of the e-mail from David Ussishkin from Ms. Chung that let Ussishkin know that Sanders had spoken with Newsweek as a source:

Professor Ussishkin,

Hello, my name is Juliet Chung and I'm the reporter with Newsweek who wanted to chat with you. (Kathleen Miller over at the Biblical Archaeological Review passed along your e-mail address.) Wondering: are you familiar with the amateur archaeologist Michael Sanders, by any chance? He's advancing the thesis that the Second Temple was likely not located at Temple Mount, but was perhaps located instead at Gihon Spring. He mentioned that you support this thesis and that, additionally, there's a growing body of credible scholarship in support of this argument. I wanted to check in with you to see if you do indeed believe this may have been the case? And to see whether there is a growing sentiment that this is so within the scholarly community?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you so much for your time.

Best,

Juliet Chung

It isn't clear whether Ms. Chung ever saw the original e-mail with the subject header clearly noting that this was off the record. Also unclear is how many hands this passed through at Newsweek between Jon Meacham and Juliet Chung. The reason why this is unclear is that Newsweek has not responded to repeated complaints from Professor Sanders about his outing. I contacted Newsweek myself, e-mailing both Jon Meacham and Juliet Chung about the issue. I spoke briefly with Ms. Chung this morning, who promised to look into this and have some response back to me. I received the following e-mail this afternoon from Newsweek's media relations manager:

Mr. Sanders is not a Newsweek source. He sent an unsolicited email to the magazine about theories he holds which are publicly detailed on his own website. Because we had no relationship with him, his use of the word "Background" in the subject line of his email was not read in the way it would have been had Mr. Sanders been a source. A Newsweek staffer did use his name in following up on his theories, which are publicly available at www.biblemysteries.com.

This response seems wholly inadequate to me. Perhaps other journalists should weigh in on this, but it seems to me that a reporter should understand what the phrase "Background Only" means. Most bloggers certainly do. Juliet Chung's e-mail to Professor Ussishkin says that Sanders mentioned him, clearly revealing that Newsweek did not use the website information but Sanders' e-mail as its impetus. That makes him a source, regardless of what Newsweek says now, and they owed him some discretion until they asked for and received permission from him to use his name to contact his colleagues. Even unsolicited tipsters requesting anonymity should receive that basic discretion. I think Newsweek owes Sanders an apology.

Given the hue and cry they have generated over the treatment of Judith Miller and Matt Cooper, perhaps they should start building their case by giving consistent treatment to sources wishing to remain anonymous. At any rate, those wishing to go on background with Newsweek should be aware that their anonymity may not remain guaranteed, even outside of court orders. In other words, unless you want to get famous or notorious really quickly, don't send unsolicited tips to Newsweek reporters.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 7, 2005 10:47 PM

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