A published response
The Daily Telegraph's Charles Moore wrote in the paper on Saturday criticising Newsnight for our coverage of the Policy Exchange story. Today the paper has published our account of what happened - you can read an unedited version here.
Charles Moore's attack on Newsnight's investigation into a report by Policy Exchange is a distortion of the truth and does him no credit. Newsnight has regularly investigated Islamic extremism in Britain. In October we planned to broadcast the findings of the report entitled "The Hijacking of British Islam" which said that hate literature was available for sale in 26 of the 100 British mosques they surveyed. Policy Exchange offered the report to Newsnight and to corroborate their claims provided a bundle of receipts proving where the books had been bought.
On the planned day of broadcast our reporter Richard Watson told me he had approached one of the accused mosques and shown them the receipt. They denied selling the literature and said the receipt was not genuine. I asked to see all the receipts and we quickly identified five or six which looked suspicious - not "one or two" as Mr Moore suggests. They appeared to have been created and printed on a PC, they included mistakes such as incorrect addresses, and two of them - purportedly from different mosques - appeared to have been filled in with the same handwriting.
Mr Moore says the right thing to have done at this point would have been to "broadcast Policy Exchange's findings at once, allowing the mosques to have their say". I disagree. I concluded it would be wholly wrong to give such prominence to the report without resolving these doubts.
That day we tried to clear up the discrepancies. I spoke, in a conference call with Policy Exchange, to one (not two) of the researchers involved in gathering the receipts. I also spoke to the project coordinator. It has not subsequently been possible to speak to any of the researchers. The conversation did not reassure me, nor have Policy Exchange's subsequent explanations for how the discrepancies might have occurred.
Mr Moore is misleadingly selective about the forensic analyst's findings. Her clear conclusion is that there is "strong evidence" that two receipts from separate mosques were written by the same person and that "the possibility of more than one person being responsible is unlikely."
Mr Moore accuses us of chasing a "small story" and says we chose, in effect, to side with extremists. Newsnight does not side with anyone. We simply took care to check the evidence Policy Exchange gave us to support their report's very serious accusations. Our report acknowledged that extreme literature is available in some of the mosques. But Newsnight checked five receipts and in all five there were serious doubts about authenticity. In my book that's a story.
Mr Moore blusters, but barely deals with the question of authenticity. Will he answer this? Given that Policy Exchange's report was based on the testimony of the researchers who provided the receipts, does he, and Policy Exchange, think all of the receipts are genuine?