E-Mail Correspondence With Irish Times’ Editor Paul O’Neill Re Boston Tapes Trial

As promised, here is the email exchange between myself and Irish Times‘ editor, Paul O’Neill following his decision to spike a commissioned article from myself dealing with the outcome of the recent Ivor Bell trial. The e-mails are mostly self explanatory:

From: Ed Moloney
Sent: 24 October 2019 19:39
To: Paul O’Neill
Subject: replyDear Paul
As you may remember, a few days ago I rang your office asking for a right to reply to the various articles that had appeared in the times about the boston tapes trial.

I did so because the main writer Gerry Moriarty had never once reached out to talk to me for my viewpoint and the only contact I had with your staff was a late night call from a reporter who seemed to know very little about what is a complex case.

The response to my call to you was a message saying that I should write a piece and liaise with John McManus. This i did and we discussed the piece I planned to write which was based partly on the contrast between the Boston federal judge who had read the entire 201 interviews in the archive and was full of praise for it, and the belfast judge who had read a few paragraphs in two interviews and made a sweeping negative judgement.

John seemed to have no problem with this but now he tells me that the article has been spiked because it too closely resembled a piece which was in the Sunday Business Post. I attach both articles for you below and you can see they are as different as chalk and cheese.  (see below)

So why has my piece really been spiked?

I ask you to reverse this decision. I am a former Northern Editor of this paper and I do have, I believe, residual rights to a certain level of courtesy.

best regards

Ed Moloney
On Oct 25, 2019, at 08:02, Paul O’Neill wrote:
We seem to be at cross purposes.Gerry Moriarty – in his role as Northern Editor – reported accurately, fairly and fully on the Ivor Bell case. As you may have seen, the account published on irishtimes.com on October 17th ran to many thousands of words in order to reflect proceedings that had spanned two weeks. Gerry was present throughout and, to my knowledge, you have no issue with the content of his reporting. Your grievance is with the conclusions of the trial judge. Your position in that regard was reflected on the front page of The Irish Times (and on irishtimes.com) on October 18th as follows:

“Mr Moloney said he ‘refutes absolutely’ any bias on the part of the project and that it would in time be regarded as “a very important body of work”.

“I’m sorry, but these people have not read the entire archive,” he said.
“The judges haven’t – they’ve read one or two interviews from a vast hoard of what Ivor Bell did and made these sweeping generalisations. It’s absurd, it’s nonsense, they can’t do that.”As you know, The Irish Times covers thousands of court cases. Interested parties often disagree with the presiding judge. There is no “right of reply” in such cases – and certainly not an automatic or guaranteed one. Court proceedings stand on their merits and our duty is to report them accurately irrespective of their outcome.

Conscious of the public interest in this case, however, you were invited to liaise with John McManus as Opinion Editor. As I understand it, when you contacted my office you were unaware that you had been quoted on page 1. There was no commitment to publish anything from you. Nor would there be in advance of assessing the content of an article. You did not mention that you were writing an opinion piece for the Sunday Business Post.

So notwithstanding the fact that we had carried remarks by you on the front page last Friday and on irishtimes.com, and that you had expanded on those remarks in the Business Post, John McManus was happy to engage with you earlier this week.

The article you submitted to John overlaps with what we already reported you as saying and with the content of your article in the Business Post. That’s inevitable. The more significant issue from my perspective is that the Business Post piece was simply better. By pitching it at a high level, dealing with the limitations and merits of an oral history project and the potential value in helping to address legacy issues in Northern Ireland, you set out your position in a manner that was easily readable (particularly for an audience not familiar with the Boston tapes).

In contrast, much of the article submitted to us is consumed by detail of your dissatisfaction with named figures in Boston College and your recollections of your exchanges with them. I have no idea how either of the individuals would respond and, as I understand it, one of them would be unable to do so because of ill-health. On top of that, such detail is likely to be lost on all readers other than those with knowledge of the Boston Tapes.

So in essence, my position is this: although we had no obligation to provide you with a forum to respond to the outcome of the Bell proceedings, we were open to doing so on the basis of your distinct perspective and interest. But unfortunately – and I’m sure unintentionally on your part – the Business Post ended up with a more pertinent, clearly argued and reader-friendly piece (in my opinion).

So what now? I think the moment has passed from an OpEd perspective, all the more so when you have pursued that avenue with the Business Post. If you want to submit a letter for publication, I’m very happy to consider it but I would encourage you to deal with the bigger picture (and the word count would be limited to a max of about 400). For the record, I have no issue with you criticising the conclusions of the trial judge. But the minutiae of your arrangements with Boston College and your exchanges with individuals there is best avoided.

I’m sure also that we’ll be likely to come back to the Boston Tapes at some stage.

I should also mention for the record that The Irish Times was among the media organisations which repeatedly challenged the reporting restrictions imposed in the Bell case.


From: Ed Moloney
Sent: 25 October 2019 13:45
To: Paul O’Neill
Subject: Re: replyPaul
So, if I have understood you correctly, what you say can be boiled down to this: other people can say critical and damaging things about my work, both inside and outside the courtroom, but I cannot respond in anything resembling the same detail. As you say, Gerry Moriarty wrote several thousand words on this court case. My quote in your paper amounted to seventy words.  And that’s okay? That’s fair?

As for Bob O’Neill not being able to respond to the allegations concerning his part in this affair, the fact is he did, before his medical state deteriorated. He admitted to the respected US magazine ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’ in 2014 that he had not submitted the crucial donor contract to the college attorney for approval, as he told me he would and had. He admitted this openly and in print. We in Ireland were hoodwinked by someone we believed we could trust and the seeds were sown for the court case that happened two weeks ago. Yet you could not find space to tell your readers this crucial detail.

Nor can you find space to tell your readers that the key witness upon whose views the judge heavily relied had read only one interview out of the 201 archived interviews and had been barred by me from reading any more. He admitted in his testimony that he had been ‘frozen out’ after that episode but did not say why. I ‘froze’ him out because I feared his hostility to the project could cost my interviewer his life. But you cannot find space for this?

The difference between this material and what I wrote for the Sunday Business Post are evident to any dispassionate reader. I believe that you are hiding behind the SBP piece and using it as an excuse to avoid publishing my response to the coverage of the Ivor Bell trial.

Ed Moloney

From: Paul O’Neill
Date: October 25, 2019 at 10:08:30 EDT
To: ‘Ed Moloney’
Subject: RE: reply


The Irish Times is not responsible for anything said by others about you. Our only responsibility was to report on the Bell proceedings fairly and comprehensively. I am satisfied that we did so.

I have set out my position. I understand that you are angry about the outcome of the case but it is not our role to re-litigate or to provide a platform for one side in any dispute. I note you saw no need to reference named individuals when you wrote in the Business Post.

You continue to have the opportunity to set out for readers of The Irish Times the short-comings you see in the Bell prosecution and the importance of the project you were involved in. I will leave the offer of a letter with you.




From: Me
Re: reply
To: Paul O’Neill
Oct 25, 2019 at 10:41
I have never suggested that your paper is or was responsible for what was said about me by others. That would be an absurd thing to say. But you do have a responsibility to fully inform your readers of all the available facts associated with a story, especially when they conflict with the existing narrative. By censoring my article – and that is what you have done – I believe you have failed in that rersponsibility.
best regards
Ed Moloney

2 responses to “E-Mail Correspondence With Irish Times’ Editor Paul O’Neill Re Boston Tapes Trial

  1. Classic strawman argument strategy:
    Side-step the real issue.
    Create a pretend argument for distraction.
    Defeat the pretend argument.
    Claim the real issue is resolved.

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