Bradley Manning Bradley Manning (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Last year, a big fight in journo-critic world addressed whether the New York Times should have a correspondent front and center for the trial of Bradley Manning, the famous WikiLeaker. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan shamed the newsroom for failing to do so, charging that the newspaper “missed the boat.”

Well, now we have an even more compelling reason to have a New York Times reporter at the trial: To report on Manning’s claim to have approached … the New York Times before he turned to WikiLeaks. In pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, Manning today read a statement in which he detailed his attempts to reach out to various media organizations — The Washington Post and Politico as well — with his wares. Those attempts apparently didn’t work.

Vis-a-vis the New York Times, Manning apparently called into the paper’s public-editor line:


Savage is a New York Times reporter, on the scene to take in the news. Go, Sullivan!

Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the New York Times, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that Manning “never got to anybody in a position to do anything with that information. This is literally the first anybody has heard of this. … I’ve asked around and there is no one here that had heard this,” she says, noting that her inquiries include former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.

The failure of Manning to reach the newsroom via the public editor could well be a matter for the public editor. Institutions as large as the New York Times — with an editorial head count exceeding 1,100 — can be a thicket for your average person looking to pass along a little gossip to a reporter. Page A2 of the New York Times contains some contact information under the paper’s corrections box. It reads, “Errors and comments: 1-888-NYT-NEWS.”

“Errors and comments,” however, do not equal “Hot news tips from whistleblowers.” In any case, the message that greets you upon dialing “1-888-NYT-NEWS” plows through nearly 90 seconds of bureaucracy about corrections, delivery or billing problems, responses to editorials or Op-Eds before instructing the caller on how to leave a “suggestion” for news or feature coverage. Even then, it states “messages left for news or feature coverage will not be forwarded”; an e-mail address, instead, is offered.

A phone line monitored by the public editor’s office got shut down in September due to an overwhelming message load on the order of 50 voicemails per day. Clark Hoyt, who served as public editor during the period when Manning would have called, tells the Huffington Post he doesn’t remember the alleged message from Manning.. And finally, this “Help” page offers a separate e-mail address for news tipsters.

Now consider the possibility that Manning simply called the New York Times’s number, 212-556-1234. Here’s what he would have heard on the outgoing voicemail, in the soothing voice of some Telephone Man:

Thank you for calling the New York Times. To reach a particular department or person directly, press 0 then speak the name when prompted. For all other requests, please select from the following:

For home delivery, large-type weekly book review, back copies, or for the International Herald Tribune, photo archives, international or syndication sales, press 1.

To reach the news readers comment line or letters to the editor, press 2. [This option appears to contain the same recording as 1-888-NYT-NEWS]

To obtain the address of our New York City or Washington, D.C., office, press 3.

For a list of newsroom departments, press 4.

For the magazine or arts departments, press 5.

For advertising departments, press 6.

For the marketing departments or the Times center, press 7.

For human resources, the legal department, the Neediest Cases or the New York Times Foundation, press 8.

To repeat these options, press 9.

And to leave a news tip, please press WikiLeaks.

Phil Corbett, the standards editor of the New York Times, gets the last word on this one:

From what I gather, no one here has any recollection of such a call [from Manning]. …

On your broader point, we try to be as accessible and responsive as possible to calls and e-mails, which I imagine amount to many thousands a day. Calls and e-mails to the main newsroom in-baskets are monitored and directed to the appropriate editors. The public editor’s office, which also gets hundreds of communications a day, tries to respond directly as appropriate or to forward messages to the newsroom. Individual reporters are accessible by e-mail as well.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.