A rotating random-phase-screen diffuser is sometimes employed on synchrotron x-ray imaging beamlines to ameliorate field-of-view inhomogeneities due to electron-beam instabilities and beamline optics phase artifacts. The ideal result is a broader, more uniformly illuminated beam intensity for cleaner coherent x-ray images. The spinning diffuser may be modeled as an ensemble of transversely random thin phase screens, with the resulting set of intensity maps over the detector plane being incoherently averaged over the ensemble. Whilst the coherence width associated with the source is unaffected by the diffuser, the magnitude of the complex degree of second-order coherence may be significantly reduced [K. S. Morgan, S. C. Irvine, Y. Suzuki, K. Uesugi, A. Takeuchi, D. M. Paganin, and K. K. W. Siu, Opt. Commun. 283, 216 (2010)]. Through use of a computational model and experimental data obtained on x-ray beamline BL20XU at SPring-8, Japan, we investigate the effects of such a diffuser on the quality of Fresnel diffraction fringes in propagation-based x-ray phase contrast imaging. We show that careful choice of diffuser characteristics such as thickness and fiber size, together with appropriate placement of the diffuser, can result in the ideal scenario of negligible reduction in fringe contrast whilst the desired diffusing properties are retained. A? 2010 Optical Society of America.