Anybody know who Leo Hindery Jr. had lunch with the other day at the Four Seasons? Of course they do -- it's a public place with dozens of witnesses to everything that goes on in the midtown lunch mecca.
But that didn't stop NYT metro reporter Alan Feuer from giving one of his "At The Table" subjects the right to keep his presence there "anonymous" -- in clear violation of NYT rules regarding anonymity.
In the Metropolitan section feature today, Feuer reported on a power lunch with Hindery -- the former CEO of the YES Network, and now a managing partner of a private equity fund -- and, as Feuer put it, "an unnamed media executive so desperate to preserve his anonymity he slipped a reporter a note (below) begging to be known simply as 'Bob,' which is not even close to his real name."
The begging worked. Feuer thereafter referred to Hindery's lunch date as "the Media Executive Whose Name is Not Bob."
The feature -- which opened with a perfunctory paragraph acknowledging the Four Seasons as a popular power lunch spot -- went on to disclose nothing, aside from the fact that the two men ate crab cakes.
The lunch partners made clear to Feuer that they were discussing "a deal," and did not particularly appreciate the interruption.
"He and I do have to get to business now," Hindery told Feuer, finally shooing him away.
Feuer, the dutiful servant, bowed his head and left.
The NYT's rules about the use of anonymity in the paper are quite strict, and expressly prohibit situations like this. The paper has been widely criticized in recent years for an excessive use of anonymity in its stories, and has repeatedly promised a crackdown.
What makes Feuer's agreement so egregious, of course, is that the Four Seasons is a public place, where the notion of remaining anonymous is ridiculous. Dozens, if not hundreds of New Yorkers pass through the restaurant's Grill Room each day, and many of them must have known the identity of Hindery's date.
But Feuer's column -- like far too much content in the NYT -- is designed not to mess with the comfort level of New York's richest and most powerful people. The decision to grant anonymity to Hindery and his date smacks of the worst kind of wealth worship.
The minute Hindery's lunch partner said he didn't want to be identified, Feuer should have closed his notebook and walked away. But instead he dutifully agreed to the terms and wrote his story up exactly the way they wanted it to appear.
Here are the NYT's rules regarding the use of anonymity in the NYT that Feuer appears to have broken:
The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy.
In routine interviewing – that is, most of the interviewing we do – anonymity must not be automatic or an assumed condition. In that kind of reporting, anonymity should not be offered to a source. Exceptions will occur in the reporting of highly sensitive stories, when it is we who have sought out a source who may face legal jeopardy or loss of livelihood for speaking with us.
Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source.
We will not use anonymous sourcing when sources we can name are readily available.