Monday, June 22, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: David Pogue, In Violation Of NYT Ethics Rules, Took Fee To Speak To Industry Trade Group Last Week.

The NYTPicker has learned that David Pogue, the NYT's hugely popular personal-technology columnist, was paid an undisclosed amount to speak to an industry trade group in California last Friday -- a arrangement that violated the same NYT rules that recently got op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman into trouble.

On Friday morning, Pogue was the keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Association's "CEO Summit" near Los Angeles -- a gathering of hundreds of top executives at the nation's leading technology companies. A spokesman for the CEA, Jason Oxman, confirmed to the NYTPicker that Pogue was paid for his speech, and reimbursed for his travel expenses from New York to California.

In doing so, Pogue violated the NYT ethics guidelines on public speaking that allow NYT staffers to accept fees "only from educational or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus."

The Consumer Electronics Association, while technically a nonprofit organization, is an industry trade group whose stated mission is to "grow the consumer electronics industry," which Pogue covers. It's fully funded by its corporate members, and has its own lobbying division. In its 2007 tax return, the CEA reported spending $3.3 million on government lobbying and political expenditures to promote the consumer electronics industry.

In an email statement to The NYTPicker late Friday afternoon, Catherine Mathis, the NYT's senior vice president of corporate communications, acknowledged Pogue's error in judgement and implied that he had been reprimanded for his CEA appearance:

David Pogue is not a Times staff member, but that, as the Ethical Journalism policy says, freelancers are held to the extent possible to the same standards as staffers when they are on Times assignments. This speech was not a Times assignment, but Mr. Pogue has been reminded of the policy provisions barring acceptance of speaking fees or travel expenses from all but educational or other non-profit organizations that do not have lobbying or political activity as a major focus.

While it's true that Pogue isn't a NYT staff member, the NYT's ethical journalism policy in fact holds freelancers to the same standards as NYT staffers, whether on a "Times assignment" or not, as this clause makes clear:

Our audience applies exacting standards to all of our journalism. It does not normally distinguish between the work of staff members and that of outside freelancers. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to the Times Company's journalism, while not its employees, should accept the same ethical standards as staff members as a condition of their assignments for us. If they violate these standards, they should be denied further assignments.

Given that, would Pogue be expected to return the speaker's fee paid to him by the CEA? After it was recently disclosed that Thomas Friedman took a $75,000 fee for speaking to a California government lobbying group, the op-ed columnist promptly gave back the money. Friedman gave back the money. "It was my fault," Friedman said. "No excuses."

The NYTPicker asked Mathis if the NYT planned to ask Pogue to return the CEA speaking fee and travel reimbursement.

"We have no authority to do so." Mathis replied via email. "While we could deny him future assignments, we have no plans to do so."

Reached last night, Pogue defended his appearance at the CEA to The NYTPicker, though he acknowledged in an email that as a result of his Friday faux-pas, he has agreed to get NYT approval before accepting future speaking gigs.

Here is Pogue's statement, in full:

Well, the Times ethics book says you can't accept speaking fees unless it's for "educational or other nonprofit groups for which lobbying
and political activity are not a major focus."

The group for whom I spoke, the CEA, is indeed a nonprofit, educational organization. But is lobbying a "major focus?"

Less than 5 percent of its staff and resources has to do with lobbying (they have 3 lobbyists on staff among 150 employees). Meanwhile, 90 percent of the CEA's staff and budget are dedicated to research, education and, of course, the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show.

Nonetheless, I've agreed to run future speaking requests by my editors before accepting them.

Pogue didn't answer two questions asked by the NYTPicker: whether he planned to return the money he was paid to travel to and speak to the CEA -- as Friedman did -- and whether he he perceived an ethical problem in accepting money from an industry trade group that promotes the products he reviews.

It's worth noting that the Consumer Electronics Show to which Pogue refers is an annual event designed to promote new products and models. It isn't open to the public. Nor are most of the CEA's other events and activities. The "research" and "education" to which he refers exist to further the ends of the consumer electronics industry that Pogue covers as a journalist.

The thinly-veiled frustration in Mathis's comment about Pogue sheds light a fundamental problem posed by the columnist's poor judgement. The NYT can't afford to enforce its strict code of ethical conduct on Pogue, simply because of his enormous value to the NYT brand.

While not a member of the NYT staff, Pogue ranks among its most popular and valuable contributors; his reviews of new products routinely land on the NYT's top-ten most-emailed list, and his videos have grown immensely popular with readers. Last week, Pogue's rave review of the new iPhone landed him on the list yet again.

As the NYT's future becomes increasingly tied to the success of its website, Pogue's value to the paper continues to grow. Pogue is a personable, witty 46-year-old Yale graduate whose videos and commentary reflect the NYT's own changing persona, from a stodgy print product to an engaging, personality-driven multimedia enterprise. Even in areas of hard news coverage, the compelling character-driven videos by reporters like foreign correspondent C.J. Chivers have given the NYT a new way to demonstrate its dominance.

But while the NYT's relationship with Pogue has meant a massive increase in page views and publicity, it has also given Pogue unusual sway with the NYT and its rule book.

The NYT has long prided itself on a strict firewall between critics and the institutions whose products they review. For example, it would be unheard of for a NYT theater critic to accept a speaking fee from the The Broadway League, or for a NYT movie critic to take money from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a speech -- or even to appear at events sponsored by those industry groups. It's difficult to imagine a freelance NYT critic doing so without suffering serious consequences, if not outright dismissal.

Pogue's main competition in the personal technology field, Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, posts his own strict ethics policy on the All Things D website where he contributes. It says, in part:

I also don't accept trips, speaking fees, or product discounts from companies whose products I cover, or from their public relations or advertising agencies. I don't serve as a consultant to any companies, or serve on any corporate boards or advisory boards. I do occasionally take a free t-shirt from these companies, but my wife hates it when I wear them, as she considers them ugly.

Pogue posts no such guidelines on his website, It does, however, offer quick access to the "Pogue-o-matic," the writer's handy online guide to product purchasing (with prices, reviews and Pogue's comments) that's also available on the NYT website.


Anonymous said...

Oh my god you guys are getting lazy. How about we do a little actual reporting here, eh?

The ethics rule states that Times employees cannot take feeds from any organization "for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus."

That's kind of fuzzy, so how do we define "major" in this context? I don't really know, but in less than 10 minutes I was able to find out that CSA spends between 1 and 2 percent of its annual budget on direct lobbying activities. To me, that doesn't quite rise to the level of "major."

Look at their 990. It's all there on Guidestar. The group spends the vast, vast majority of its funds on staff, services and its annual convention. The largest single expense for the organization is the convention, which eats up almost a third of its budget each year.

Looking at the lobbying forms (again, it's all right there in black and white at CRP), the group generally spends less than $500K in federal lobbying. In 2007 and 2008, it spent $1.5 and $1.6 million respectively, but then dipped down to $410K so far in 2009.

I am not here to make excuses for David Pouge, who probably should be more discerning. But on the other hand, I don't think you can argue that he violated either the letter or the spirit of the Times policy.

C'mon you guys.


First of all, you've misstated the ethics rules, which allow -- not prohibit -- speaking fees from "nonprofit or educational groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus."

We don't know the source of your percentages, but the CEA's 2007 tax return shows revenues of $80.7 million, with expenditures on lobbying and political activities of almost $3.3 million. That's roughly 4 percent.

More important is the fact that the CEA is not an educational group, but rather an industry trade organization designed to grow the industry through sales of its products. That doesn't match up either to the intent or the wording of the NYT's ethics policy.

The deeper question -- which Pogue failed to address -- is whether it's appropriate for a personal-technology columnist to accept money from an organization funded by the companies he covers. We think it isn't, and it appears the NYT agrees with us.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with NYTPicker on this one. The CEA is not an educational organization like a school. It's one goal is to help the member companies sell more gadgets. It doesn't really matter how small a percentage is officially spent in Washington, I think it's fair to say that 100% is spent on getting the world to buy more gadgets.

The reason they invited Pogue is to push their gadgets on him and get an impression of how he thinks so they can better push their gadgets on him in the future. It's not because they're investing in building a university devoted to the science of gadget design.

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone left at the Times who is a staffer?

Anonymous said...

I think the rules were meant for political situations, not the lighter parts of the paper. And how accepting money from the trade organizations going to bias him? Will he favor the iPhone over "indie" phones from backyard "boutique" cell phone manufacturers who aren't members of the trade organization? Maybe the Next Apple II will be overlooked? Be real.

If the Times wants him to toe their line, they're going to have to pay him a lot more than they do now. Pony up or shut up.

Milo said...

The NYTimes never seems to learn, does it? Their unwillingness to rein Pogue in is a mistake and is going to come back to bite them one day. And it's clear that Pogue has no intention whatsoever of returning that payment.

Here's the irony, Pogue is in demand BECAUSE of his NYTimes platform. How many of his readers know that he's a freelancer and not a full-fledged NYTimes staffer? He gets his prominence and his credibility from his association with the Times. That's why he's in demand for speaking at conferences and such. The tech companies want his blessing because they know that the exposure in the NYTimes will reach their target audience of college-educated, upper-income technofiles. And best of all, the coverage is free!

All they have to do is invite Pogue to speak at the occasional conference and whatever they pay him is less than the price of a full page ad in the Times.

Why does the NYTimes lack such confidence in itself that it's unwilling to cut Pogue loose and hire a new tech gadget columnist? Pogue has built enough of a following that he would be successful doing his schtick on his own blog.

Anonymous said...

It's a deep question of whether Pogue is successful because of the Times or the Times is successful because of Pogue. He's quite good but so are the otehr writers. Maybe it's all in the editing?

In any case, it is common for other tech writers to produce articles with a higher rank than Pogue on the most emailed list. The other writers often rank higher.

Anonymous said...

The group Friedman spoke to WAS a lobbying group. That was its primary function.

But come on-- 4% of the CEA's budget does not make lobbying a "major focus." There is simply no issue here. Pogue violated nothing.

Besides, who the hell cares? What sort of lobbying would Pogue be interested in? What sort of "insider advice" could he give these companies--other than "design your products better?"

As for the conflict of interest: it doesn't exist when ALL of the companies he covers are part of the same trade group. Nobody has any advantage here.

Looks a bit like you're really hurting for stories here.

Anonymous said...

Well, here he goes again. His "rave" reviews are embarrassing - they read like manufacturer's PR releases anyway... so I really don't understand his "value" to the Times. The Times has had some excellent and discerning tech writers in the past and Pogue couldn't hold a candle to most of them.

Ruth Ann said...

I am not posing as a member of the Ethical Police.
I'm a recovering journalist who has attended CES at least 12 years, who has been on the receiving end of their mailings, and who has visited their swag-filled press room when there were goodies galore for people who cover the show.
If you're going to fault Pogue, you should slap every pass-wearing presser who ever did a story on the CES Top Ten Innovations, or boogied with a robot for the noon show live shot, or took the Toshiba rolling backpack and the free reporters' notebooks.
Give me a break.
If you're a reporter and you go to the show, you're in their pocket in some form or fashion, simply by dint of how the layout steers attendees to certain booths, the signage placement that's designed to be glittery standup background, the special access for VIP interviews, what EVER.
I'd say the average scribe who goes to CES is much more likely to be swayed by their seduction than someone like Pogue, who doesn't "need" them as much as they "need" him, much like the NYTimes "needs" him.
He built his personal brand. He reaps the rewards. These days, all journos are being advised to go and do likewise if they want to eat in the years ahead.
Disclaimer: I've met Pogue at TED. He wouldn't know me from the proverbial hole in the ground.

Anonymous said...

Why do people come to this website just to trash its items? I for one am grateful it exists. Clearly these people are getting no money for their efforts (the lack of advertising) and no fame/recognition (they're anonymous). So why don't people stop searching for weaknesses in NYTPicker, and appreciate its strengths, and its value?

Anonymous said...

Pogue's had ethical problems before with the NYT. Last time, I believe, it was getting a hard-drive fixed--for free.

Add to that the fact that he's almost never met an Apple he didn't polish--well, maybe his time has come.

With the demise of printed computer ;ublications, there are a lot of good tech journalists floating around loose. Maybe the Times should start looking....

Jason Oxman, CEA said...

On behalf of CEA, I'd like to offer some facts to clarify the record. I do appreciate having been contacted by NYTPicker for the opportunity to comment on this story. I can only claim expertise as to CEA itself, not the NYT's policies, and I thought some further information might help inform your readers.

(1) Non-profit status. NYTPicker writes that CEA is "technically a nonprofit organization." To clarify, we are indeed a nonprofit organization -- specifically, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit -- and we are certified by the IRS as such.
(2) Education. CEA provides education and training to tens of thousands of industry professionals each year. Our CEKnowHow program trains retail sales representatives on technology and industry trends. Our MECP (Mobile Electronic Certified Professional) program trains in-vehicle technicians. Our ESPA (Electronic Systems Professional Alliance) training program trains and certifies in-home electronics installers. Our DHTI program (Digital Home Technology Integrator) trains and certifies digital home network installers. Our Professional Audio-Video Specialist program certifies retail sales knowledge of audio-video technology. Again, these are all training, education and certification programs provided by CEA. More information is at
(3) Government affairs and lobbying. NYTPicker correctly reports that CEA's government affairs activities constitute 4% of the Association's annual expenditures and less than 5% of the Association's staff. As I'm sure NYTPicker readers are aware, nearly all large nonprofit organizations -- from the Red Cross to PETA to the largest religious organizations in the country -- have government affairs operations. Ours happens to constitute a very small percentage of our overall budget and activities.
(4) Mission of CEA. Since our inception in 1924 as the Radio Manufacturers Association, our mission has been to grow our industry. Specifically, NYTPicker correctly reports that CEA's stated mission is to "grow the consumer electronics industry." We do so through market research, standards setting activities, consumer education, and of course we produce the world's largest tradeshow for technology -- the International CES, held each January in Las Vegas. As a trade association, we don't sell any products or promote any brands. We even have our own journalists on staff -- Vision Magazine, CEA's flagship publication, has more than 20,000 subscribers.

I can be reached at for any additional information.

Thank you.

Jason Oxman
Senior Vice President
Industry Affairs

Anonymous said...

Well, there you have it. The head of the CEA admits that its job is to grow the gadget business. Sure, it has an educational component, but that loophole was intended for colleges not industry groups.

Anonymous said...

Well, there you have it. Pogue was right: The CEA fully meets the Times guidelines for speaking engagements.

It's nonprofit, it's educational, and lobbying is not a major focus.

So what's the problem?

Anonymous said...

If you think it's all right for journalists to receive hefty payments and other emoluments from the people and organizations they are supposed to be covering objectively, you don't understand one of the major basic premises of real journalism.

Anonymous said...

I think these are just guidelines and the real test is who is covering what. The Red Cross might be a real charity with a huge educational component, but a reporter covering what the Red Cross did in New Orleans shouldn't accept a big payment to speak at the Red Cross dinner. Nor should someone covering educational issues accept a big payment to speak at a college.

(And I realize it's cool for the NY columnists to speak at commencements but I think they shouldn't write about educational issues then. Well, if they accept payment. If it's all on their own dime, then I don't think it's as a big a deal. )

Anonymous said...

How about if they receive an honorary degree? Think you'll ever see criticism of the institution from them?

Anonymous said...

Good point about the honorary degree. The school may not pay you in money, but ego stroking is a more powerful currency in some parts of the world. Sigh. If only I had more money, I could be happy with ego stroking.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Pogue broke the rules, or the Times wouldn't have bothered giving NYTPicker a statement. If you read Mathis's statement it's clear the Times is pissed.

Walt Mossberg would never take money from the Consumer Electronics Association. He's an ethical journalist. Pogue is a hack.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Pogue, who usually twitters all the time, hasn't posted a tweet since this story came out.

Anonymous said...

"Walt Mossberg would never take money from the Consumer Electronics Association. He's an ethical journalist"

Are you KIDDING?

Mossberg is the man who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from his "D: All Things Digital" conference--whose stars are the CEOs of the companies he covers. You think he can be objective after persuading Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos to be the star attractions at his show?

This is the man who collects speaking fees from speaking at events like this one (, "a private organization formed to stimulate the creation and growth of high-impact companies." Isn't that exactly your problem with Pogue's speaking gig?

He also addresses venture-capitalist groups like this one (, which are investors in the very products he reviews.

And he speaks at cellphone industry events like this one ( then, after accepting payment, goes on to review those companies' products.

Look, Pogue may have stepped over the line. But I don't think Mossberg is the guy you want to be your ethical yardstick.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to anonymous above for setting the story straight about Mossberg. Can anyone recommend an ethical personal technology columnist for me to read?

Anonymous said...

Wow. Mossberg makes Pogue look innocent by comparison. This really stinks.

And Mossberg supposedly makes close to $1m from the WSJ alone:

You would think that a salary like that would let him avoid the temptation.

Anonymous said...

So I just typed "david pogue keynote" into Google and found he's been a busy guy. While some of the conferences seem to be obviously educational and charitable (pause for some praise), some look like they're entirely funded by the industries he covers.

# "All the major business stakeholders in the NFC mobile payments ecosystem are gathering at CTST 2008...David Pogue, the humorous, tech-savvy New York Times technology columnist and Emmy-winning CBS news correspondent, will keynote the event luncheon. "


But here he is writing about the payments ecosystem:

# "We had an absolute blast while appearing at Macworld 2006. David Pogue is a fantastic talk show host, and he really made the whole experience such a pleasure."


Apple was the biggest sponsor of MacWorld until recently.

# " David Pogue, New York Times columnist and Emmy-winning technology correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning, will deliver the keynote address on Wednesday, September 17 during The NAB Radio Show in Austin. "


Pogue frequently covers applications like Pandora.

# "New York Times Personal Technology Columnist David Pogue gave the second keynote during the 20th annual Government Technology Conference (GTC) West, held in Sacramento, Calif., from May 14-18, 2007."


# "FOSE 2008, the most comprehensive event for government information technology (IT) professionals, today announced its keynote lineup. ... New York Times columnist, Missing Manual publisher, and Emmy-winning CBS News Correspondent David Pogue; "

I think that FOSE is mainly devoted to selling tech to government agencies, but even that sounds sort of like lobbying.

Anonymous said...

You could probably dig up stuff like this on any major columnist for any paper--but in this case, most of your Pogue speaking examples are pretty silly.

For example, Macworld Expo does not pay its speakers.

Internet radio is generally considered the ENEMY of terrestrial radio, so his speaking at the NAB and then writing about Pandora is anything but a conflict of interest.

And Pogue does not write about government tech--his domain is consumer technology--so the government confabs are a bit of a stretch, too.

Anonymous said...

Am I reading correctly? Just because Pandora is said to be the enemy of the NAB, it's okay to be a keynote for an organization that doesn't even claim that its conferences in Vegas are educational.

Here's what the NAB says on the page announcing Pogue's keynote:

"... NAB advances their interests in legislative, regulatory and public affairs. Through advocacy, education and innovation, NAB enables broadcasters to best serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and seize new opportunities in the digital age. "

But I guess that the part about "seizing new opportunities in the digital age" doesn't apply here. After all, the NAB will just ignore Pandora because it's the enemy.

Just dig a bit deeper.

Pogue writes about the broadcast flag:

The NAB cares deeply about that topic:

[dozens more files are available if you dig for a second.]

Not enough? How about HD Radio:

Here's NAB lobbying on that topic:

This is just one example. I'm sure some of his talks are charitable and devoted to true educational opportunities outside of Vegas.

These aren't silly examples.

Anonymous said...

FOSE exhibitors include Dell, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic and Sun. They're selling gadgets to everyone and the government just happens to be one customer.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of this Web site? You're this lone blogger taking anonymous potshots at the Times...why?

The comments here have already made it clear that errors, omissions, and bad judgment can be found at any media organization.

A media-watchdog site is a great idea. Why not open it up to CNN, WSJ, USA Today, NPR, etc? And, of course, the Times too.

You'd have much better material to choose from, and you wouldn't come across so much like some peevish former Timesman with an axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

My my, cranky cranky nytpickers. It's me, the first poster.

1) I did mean to write CAN not CANNOT. (I also meant to write FEES not FEEDS, so how about I preemptively apologize for that too so we can move to the important stuff?)

I regret the error.... now, moving on.

2) Actually, it is you misstating the policy, friends. The CEA is not an educational group, but did you notice the "or" there? It is a nonprofit. Registered 501(c)6. Did you know that (I mean, before I pointed you to Guidestar? Learned a little something there didn't we?)

3) Now that we know this, are you saying this policy allows staffers to accept fees ONLY from 501(c)3 charities? I see no such language. And before you get too hot and bothered about "trade groups," there are plenty out there that do not qualify as lobbying entities. The Society of Professional Journalists, for example, which is a registered 501(c)6 -- just like CEA. Are you saying SPJ doesn't qualify as an "educational or other nonprofit" organization under this policy? I think that would come as a surprise to a lot of people at 620 8th Ave., don't you?

4) Finally, the dollar amounts I cited are their direct lobbying expenses -- not including things like salary and so forth not related to actual lobbying (government relations departments do a lot more than gladhand politicians, you know).

But fine. Even if we accept your number, you are actually now claiming that 4 percent of the CEA budget constitutes a "major focus"? Really?

And is it worth taking into account that CEA averaged less than 1 percent of budget in lobbying costs in the three previous years?

Face it: The CEA is not PhRMA, and no amount of fuzzy math on your part can change that. Sorry to bum you out, but Pogue did nothing wrong.

There is every reason why Pogue should not have accepted this speaking fee. But a violating a Times policy is not among them.

Next time do the reporting first, and write the headline later. That would be my advice.

Anonymous said...

This is really perverse. Pogue speaks to a trade group which serves as a neutral meeting ground for companies. He doesn't appear to violate NYT policy.

Mossberg makes millions by asking companies he covers to give him sponsorship and registration money.

Somehow, the ethical Pogue is criticized and Mossberg is held to be a paragon of virtue.

jane blogs said...

The same criticism could be made of restaurant reviewers in particular, chefs and those that write real estate stories. Financial journos seem to be held to a higher standard but not much.

They all have huge conflicts and many earn big bucks off the back of their writing for print media. They publish books, have TV shows, guest commentaries, speaking gigs etc.

It is common place but I think most, like Pogue et al are mindful of this and try to be even handed but it is tricky.

Funny we don't like it if doctors take free trips or pens from a big pharma but all these other guys are doing effectively the same thing.

Maybe the GFC might not have happened "out of the blue", had everyone been reporting without vested interest or bias. Facts I guess are just not quite as interesting.

Maybe we wouldn't go to so many overrated restaurants or hotels if reviewers/reporters were not feted by the good life. Maybe people wouldn't have bought stocks at the top of the market when the companies already had the life sucked out of them.

Once again, it is the consumer that is the last person to know the reality but in the case of the grey lady - surely they as the paper of record should be held accountable for transparent, unbiased content regardless of whether it is journalistic, reported, reviewed or heresay - tell us, so we know and we can make a decision based on the source.

Unknown said...

Don't feel bad. I got an ass-reaming from Pogue himself on my blog after briefly mentioning his professional discrepancies.

It seems that he cannot take opposing viewpoints well.

If you care to read what I wrote, his rebuttal and my open letter in response to him, it's posted here:

and here: