Here are the next paragraphs. Suddenly, we’re talking about an unnamed source who says he/she talked to the unnamed ex-cop. Notice these are direct quotes:

A source said: “This investigator [i.e. the ex-NYPD officer] is used by a lot of journalists in America and he recently told me that he was asked to hack into the 9/11 victims’ private phone data. He said that the journalists asked him to access records showing the calls that had been made to and from the mobile phones belonging to the victims and their ­relatives.

His presumption was that they wanted the information so they could hack into the ­relevant voicemails, just like it has been shown they have done in the UK. The PI said he had to turn the job down. He knew how insensitive such research would be, and how bad it would look.

“The investigator said the ­journalists seemed particularly interested in getting the phone records belonging to the British victims of the attacks.”

Notice, NotW and News Corp. aren’t mentioned by name even by the second “source,” let alone the ex-cop source.

Is it beyond the realm of possibility that NotW reporters tried to hack 9/11 victims? Of course not. Should the FBI investigate? Sure.

Did hacking actually take place? Based on this story, the answer so far is no.

Do we even know that NotW reporters even tried?

Based on this story, no, we don’t. Third-hand information on a story of such sensitivity isn’t good enough. The Mirror should have worked harder, at least, to speak to the cop directly. What do we know about the cop? Does he really remember the name of the specific British newspaper whose reporters were asking for the information, ten years ago?

As written, it shouldn’t have run. You tell me it’s just a British tabloid, and I say I don’t care. Isn’t this how we got into this mess?

I know this is a competitive story, but tough. It’s not that NotW deserves any better, but readers do.

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.