Sunday, January 31, 2010

Whoops! Andrew Martin's NYT Sunday Business Puff Piece On "Alternative" Lender Leaves Out Key Detail -- His Felony Arrest Record.

On the front page of today's NYT Sunday Business section, Andrew Martin delivers a puff piece on Richard Eitelberg -- the founder and president of Hartsko, a company that lends money to small businesses to tide them over on pending purchase orders.

As is so often the case with the fawning NYT Sunday Business section, Martin devotes himself to a mostly positive 2,126-word profile of his subject -- barely delving into Eitelberg's background in business, let alone questioning him closely about how he found himself in this line of work.

But had Martin bothered to investigate his subject a little -- or even Google him -- he would have quickly discovered that less than eight years ago, Eitelberg was arrested and charged by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York with breaking into the computer of a former employer, and deleting its purchase orders.

If convicted, Eitelberg faced a maximum five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. The NYTPicker is seeking comment from the U.S. Attorney's office, and from Eitelberg, about the final disposition of the case. [UPDATE -- see below.]

The U.S. Attorney's complaint -- announced in a news release on April 26, 2002 -- alleges that Eitelberg used his former employer's password to illegally access its computer system after quitting his job. He had served as comptroller the company, MP Limited LLC, a Manhattan-based apparel manufacturer, for less than a year.

From the U.S. Attorney's press release:

The computer records at MP allegedly indicated that an individual accessed the MP computer system using a password from at or about 9:21 P.M. until at or about 9:46 P.M. on April 10, 2002, and that orders in the database were deleted during this computer session.

AT&T phone records indicated that between February 27, 2002, more than three weeks after EITELBERG stopped work at MP, and April 10, 2002, the phone line registered to the wife of EITELBERG, and located at the EITELBERG residence was used to call MP’s modem connection approximately 13 times, including the call made at or about 9:24 P.M. on April 10, 2002.

Martin's story makes no mention of the arrest -- or even of any significant information about Eitelberg before 2004, when he founded Hartsko. Martin reports only that Eitelberg worked "for years on the financial side of the garment industry, following in the footsteps of his father."

Eitelberg told Martin that many of the businesses he worked for "struggled to stay afloat and had to seek purchase-order financing" and that he "had an epiphany one day that he was in the wrong business."

Interestingly, the crime that Eitelberg was charged with would have given him a leg up in creating his current business -- in that he was alleged to have taken purchase orders from his former employer's computer. But all Martin says about the Hartsko's start is that he began "with a loan from several investors and a $1 million credit line from a bank."

The nature of Hartsko's business, as one of its current clients puts it, is roughly akin to "loan sharking."

Basically, Hartsko lends a manufacturer the money to make its product for a committed buyer -- and then takes a liberal cut of the proceeds, typically much bigger than a bank would take in interest on a loan -- an annual percentage cut of more thasn 40% of the loan amount.

It's worth noting that Eitelberg told Martin he believed in "the importance of background checks" of customers and uses private detectives to conduct them.

We've contacted the NYT and Eitelberg for comment on today's story, and will update when we hear something.

UPDATE: We've now learned that Richard Eitelberg -- whose new purchase-loan operation was the focus of Andrew Martin's Sunday Business profile yesterday -- pled guilty in May of 2003 to felony charges of computer intrusion, and was sentenced to three years' probation, and paid more than $25,000 in restitution and fees.

Eitelberg had been charged by the U.S. Attorney in April of 2002 with criminal intrusion into the computers of a former garment district employer -- a fact overlooked by Martin in his lengthy profile of the Queens businessman who now runs an "alternative" lending company.

Yesterday, we first reported on Martin's failure to mention Eitelberg's past criminal history in the 2,126-word cover profile.

Did Martin had access to information bout the case of "USA vs. Eitelberg" -- which pops up as the lead item in a Google search of "Richard Eitelberg" -- annd choose not to include it, or did the reporter simply fail to adequately research his profile subject? That not couldn't be learned yesterday, as NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty and NT business editor Larry Ingrassia didn't respond to a request for comment.

But it would seem that Eitelberg's criminal record relates directly to the story Martin wrote, and would be of interest to anyone doing business with him.

The criminal charges against Eitelberg included the accusation that he had deleted purchase orders from the computers of MP Limited LLC; his current business involves lending money to companies with pending purchase orders. Also, the story referenced his past work experience in the garment district -- which, of course, included his employment at MP Limited.

We'll try again to elicit comment from the NYT concerning Martin's omission of this information from his story.

Putterbabe: Writer Deborah Copaken Kogan Adds Real Estate "Habitats" Column To A Record-Breaking Series Of NYT Stories About Herself.

Have you been keeping up with the ongoing NYT series on Deborah Copaken Kogan?

We have, so we already knew Kogan was a photographer, a memoir writer, a novelist, a Vespa rider, and a showbiz mom. Now it turns out she's handy with a hammer!

With today's "Habitats" column, Kogan has achieved a what appears to be a remarkable new record: she has now been the subject and/or author of five different NYT columns about herself.

Way to go, Debbie -- the NYT has a crush on you. Now who are you, again?

In a single decade, Kogan has been the subject of a "Modern Love" column in Styles, a "Night Out With" column in Styles, an "Urban Strategist" column, a "Lives" column in the NYT Magazine -- and, as of this morning, the topic of an 1,168-word "Habitats" column on her family's new Harlem home, in Real Estate.

It's a singular and remarkable achievement for a relatively little-known writer who, only a decade ago, couldn't even rate a review of her first memoir -- "Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War" -- in the NYT. For those unfamiliar, "Shutterbabe" recounted Kogan's travels through Europe as a sexually adventurous young photographer. She named each chapter for a different boyfriend.

The NYT kicked off its obsession with Kogan right around the time "Shutterbabe" was published, with a "Lives" column that chronicled her willingness to let her 3-year-old daughter climb dangerous rocks in the park, despite demurring adults nearby.

"I'm used to unsolicited parental advice by now," Kogan wrote.

Next came the "Night Out With" column by Linda Lee, only a few months later, describing Kogan as a "media powerbabe" in leather pants, drinking Cosmos and fixing up friends. By this time Kogan had abandoned her wanderlust and started a family with her husband, Paul. But the NYT informed she still liked to party at hotspots.

"Does it count if it's by remote control, from a cell phone?" Kogan asks the reporter, when she remembers that she has forgotten to light the Hanukah candles for her children.

For four years we didn't hear from Kogan, until she re-surfaced with an "Urban Tactics" column (a now-defunct feature) in 2004 that described her recent purchase of a Vespa to ride around Manhattan.

Kogan bought one to address her considerable commuting challenges. "We live on the Upper West Side," Kogen explained. "My office is in TriBeCa. I have one child in school on the Upper East Side, the other on the Upper West..."

The NYT welcomed Kogan back to its pages with an April 15, 2007 "Modern Love" column -- a breezy confessional about an encounter with a stranger who entered their apartment to signal his passion for a girl across the way -- and who helped Kogan and her husband rekindle their own fiery love.

"It was as if, via the amorous couplings across the way," Kogan wrote, "Paul and I were reaping the benefits of an extramarital affair — a rise in ardor, a distraction from reality, a reawakening of what it means to be alive — without the guilt and lies....We tucked the kids into bed early and found our way to each other for the second night in a row."

It has been almost four years since the NYT updated us on the Kogans. Constance Rosenblum corrected this with a "Habitats" column this morning that covers the family's move to Harlem -- a neighborhood that until recently, Rosenblum reports, Kogan had seen "only through the windows of a Town Car."

After years of ridiculous rents, the Kogans now pay a paltry $3,5oo for the top three floors of a townhouse on St. Nicholas Avenue in Sugar Hill. Debbie did the renovations.

"Mastering the mysteries of the power drill and the molly bolt," Rosenblum wrote, "[Kogan] installed kitchen shelves and hung a spice rack, pot racks and knife holders."

Are you listening, Home section editors?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

NYT's Gerald Boyd, In Memoir, Reveals That Reporter Jayson Blair "Spied On Colleagues" For NY Observer Media Reporter Sridhar Pappu.

In his posthumous memoir coming out next week, former NYT managing editor Gerald Boyd reveals that disgraced NYT reporter Jayson Blair "spied on colleagues" and regularly provided inside NYT information to the New York Observer.

Boyd says that he and then-executive editor Howell Raines discovered, in the wake of Blair's resignation, a "string of emails" between Blair and the Observer's "Off The Record" columnist, Sridhar Pappu, in which Blair regularly helped the reporter with stories on the NYT -- for a period of eight months before Blair quit the NYT amid widespread charges of plagiarism and fabrication of stories.

The emails "revealed a friendly relationship between the two," Boyd wrote .

Blair's resignation led to the eventual dismissal of both Boyd and Raines from the NYT, an episode recounted in depressing detail in Boyd's book, "My Times: In Black and White," set for publication next Monday and obtained by The NYTPicker. The Observer's John Koblin has already reported on other revelations in the book, including Boyd's harsh characterization of NYT culture editor Jonathan Landman, who then led the metro desk, as lacking "decency and integrity."

The depiction of the Blair-Pappu connection is especially interesting in light of the fact that, shortly after the news of his transgressions broke, Blair gave his first post-resignation interview to Pappu and the Observer -- a huge scoop at the time. ("So Jayson Blair could live, the journalist had to die," Blair famously told Pappu in a conversation held in Blair's apartment.)

According to Boyd, Blair had begun leaking information to Pappu in August 2002 about "staffing decisions, newsroom strategies, and disputes," in reply to Pappu's regular email questions.

Boyd was particularly incensed over the fact that Blair had leaked a list to Pappu of all the NYT reporters who had been assigned to the paper's Iraq coverage -- "including," Boyd said, "names, locations, phone numbers, dates they were to travel, and other comments."

"The information was confidential and competitive," Boyd fumed, "and its release was potentially life-threatening."

Boyd said he felt "deeply betrayed" by Blair's role as a newsroom source. He added that Raines had considered sharing the information about Blair's spying with the team of reporters assigned to investigate Blair's behavior for the paper. Raines told Boyd he would "discuss the possibility" of revealing the emails' contents with NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

But it wasn't clear to Boyd whether, in the end, Raines ever did anything with the information.

Reached for comment this afternoon on Boyd's account, Blair told The NYTPicker via email: "There's nothing in there that I'd disagree with."

Pappu responded to Boyd's claims this afternoon by noting that Blair was "just one of many sources I would speak to" at the NYT on regular basis.

"Any information [Blair] or anyone else gave me was then double or triple sourced before I put it in the column," Pappu told The NYTPicker via email. "I would say my relationship with him was as cordial as anyone I spoke to on the beat. I never knew Jayson personally and I never met him until our sitdown interview in 2003."

Since leaving the Observer, Pappu has written for the Atlantic Monthly and the Washington Post. Blair recently revealed that he has become a "certified life coach" in Ashburn, Virginia.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

SUNDAY FUNNIES: Mahler's Symphony Of Phony Stats...Jennifer Steinhauer Quotes Same Friend For 16 Years...NYT Secret Paywall Strategy Revealed!

Last Sunday, we reported Frank Bruni's tweet about the brilliance of that day's NYT front page. Turns out he was a week too soon -- it's today's front page that deserves special mention.

Yet again, war correspondent C.J. Chivers and his longtime photographer, Tyler Hicks, deliver a small gem of journalism from Afghanistan, this time the story of a soldier who somehow managed to escape death despite stepping on an explosive trap set by the Taliban.

Three-time Pulitzer winner Walt Bogdanich unleashes his moral outrage on an "accidental" death at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, from a computer error that misdirected a radiation machine, and assesses the widespread dangers of radiation in medicine.

Political reporters Jeff Zeleny and Peter Baker scoop the competition with news of President Obama's plan to reunite his campaign team for the midterm election fight.

Yet again, Caribbean correspondent Marc Lacey stays ahead of the pack with a report from Haiti on the destruction of the country's cultural landmarks in the recent earthquake.

And perhaps the biggest surprise: an insightful, inspiring profile by Greg Bishop of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, the jolly fat man whose rookie season has resulted in his team's stunning run-up to a possible Super Bowl slot.

It's a front page so full and amazing that there's almost no need for the Sunday Funnies!



There's a rather robust correction in the paper today, pulling back a bit from the hyperbole of Jonathan Mahler's wet kiss on best-selling novelist James Patterson's gold-plated tuchas:

An article on Page 32 this weekend about the writer James Patterson refers incorrectly to his share of the publishing market. Since 2006, Mr. Patterson has written one out of every 17 hardcover novels — not hardcover books — bought in the United States.

Big difference! Given that the mistake appears in the second paragraph of the magazine's cover story, seems like a pretty serious slip.

But how about the more significant error: the lack of attribution for the statement itself, and the likelihood that it's a purely invented number provided to Mahler by the Patterson publicity machine.

The story "reports" that 14 million Patterson books were sold worldwide in 2009. Hardcover? Paperback? We're not told. The source of that statistic? Not given.

The reason we can't verify these numbers, or that they're virtually meaningless and likely false, is that the publishing industry is notoriously secretive about sales figures. Aside from the occasional round number offered by publishers to support the supposition that its latest book is a hit, publishers never give out specific numbers of books sold -- it's a closely-held trade secret that even services like Nielsen's BookScan don't quite get right.

As for the Patterson stat, it's inconceivable that the NYT could ever verify a numerical estimate like that. While it's not impossible to believe that it's true -- Patterson does publish multiple best-selling titles a year -- there's no way to know if it is.

It seems a bit out of character for a reporter like Mahler, a respected nonfiction author, to toss in that sort of press release hyperbole into his lede. It seemed there mostly to justify lumping Patterson into that standard storyline -- "Very-Successful-Person, Inc." -- that has been a NYT Magazine staple for years.


Remember that funny, clever De Gustibus column by Jennifer Steinhauer in the Dining section last Wednesday, about kids and snacks? As with all NYT trend stories -- the trend this time being increased snacking by children, and how parents handle it -- it depended on a supply of quotes in support of a reporter's thesis.

That meant finding some parents to interview. And for Steinhauer, that meant calling up her old pal Sean O'Neill.

"I began to wonder how other parents see all this extracurricular eating, so I asked around a bit," Steinhauer wrote. "Apparently, I am not the only one being driven crazy." Steinhauer then went into the quote from O'Neill:

“It has all just gotten out of hand,” said Sean O’Neill, an illustrator and father of two in Chicago. Mr. O’Neill wonders why snacks must be served at every sporting event, even those taking place at 10 a.m. or an hour before lunch.

“The kids are playing baseball, they are covered in Chicago Park District dirt and then they eat a handful of fruit bites,” he said. “It’s pretty disgusting.”

It turns out Steinhauer had interviewed O'Neill before. Long before.

O'Neill and his wife, Jennifer Farrington, are old friends of Steinhauer's -- so much so that she had quoted them in two previous NYT stories, back in the mid-1990s.

Steinhauer first turned to O'Neill and Farrington for a quote on June 26, 1994, for a story on weddings. O'Neill described how he and his new wife used used tomato cans for centerpieces at their recent nuptials. "I didn't include the price of the tomato cans" in the cost of her wedding, Farrington told Steinhauer, "because we used them for sauce, anyway."

Less than a year later, the couple turned up in another Steinhauer story -- this one about couples and their fights over money. Here's Farrington and O'Neill, again:

"I would spend my last dollar on a pair of $110 shoes," said Ms. Farrington, a school teacher. "Whereas Sean would look at a pair of shoes that he could afford and think about it for four months."

There followed a 14-year hiatus on Farrington, until she turned up again under Steinhauer's name in a page-one story last October 30, about scary Halloween costumes. Farrington has since become the president of the Chicago Children's Museum, and her policy about restricting employees' costumes seemed worthy of note by Steinhauer:

Some other institutions have taken a similar approach. The Chicago Children’s Museum has imposed costume restrictions on employees for several years. Jennifer Farrington, the museum’s president, said the restrictions had “emerged out of talks about diversity and stereotypes.”

We contacted Steinhauer about her use of her pals in those NYT stories, and she immediately came clean.

"Guilty as charged," Steinhauer pleasantly responded to our questions via email. She noted that she'd disclosed her friendship with Farrington to the editor of the Halloween story, who'd approved it.

"I completely forgot about those stories back from when I was a clerk," Steinhauer added.

By the way, we're not against interviewing friends for stories like this. We're just in favor of having fun, catching people doing it! Sorry, Jennifer. We really did like the story.


We haven't said anything yet about the NYT's paywall announcement this week. It took us several days to wade through the endless muck of speculation.

Now, here's ours!

Much has been said about the mystery of how this proposal will make money for the NYT. It's true. The plan allows too many shortcuts into the system -- through social media sites, Google, and various hacking methods -- for it to result in a massive influx of cash from web users.

But we're thinking that may be exactly the point.

One of the plan's central promises that any home-delivery subscriber -- including people who only get the "Weekender" plan -- will continue to get complete free access to, and the paper's voluminous achivers.

Our theory: the NYT's unstated goal is to use the metered paywall as an inducement to sell more home delivery subscriptions.

One of the hardest-hit areas in the NYT revenue stream in recent months has been in its subscriber base -- the paper reported a 7.3% dropoff in weekday circulation in 2009, only partly offset by price increases. That marked dropoff has proven very costly to a paper that still generates the majority of its income from advertising and subscriptions to its print edition.

So, why not try to force web users -- who, up until now, have avoided paying for a print subscription because the website is free -- to pony up for a print subscription and keep getting full web access?

Current home-delivery rates include an introductory weekday-only price of $3.10 a week, or roughly $160 a year -- which isn't much more than a web subscription is likely to cost. Why not sign up for home delivery, and get unlimited web as a bonus?

No plans have yet been offered, of course, but we're willing to bet the NYT will be offering print/web bundle subscriptions that sell precisely what we're describing -- and as a means to manipulate as many NYT web readers as possible to cross back over to print.

A significant boost in NYT print subscriptions could substantially bolster the NYT's revenues, especially if enhanced circulation and demos let the paper to jack up its print advertising prices next year -- perhaps, if all goes well, at the same time as a general economic rebound.

We don't know what the NYT is thinking, but it wouldn't surprise us if Janet Robinson, Martin Nisenholtz, Scott Heekin-Canedy and the rest of the planning team sees the paywall as a neat marketing trick for the print edition -- and the best, fastest way to generate more cash flow to a newspaper that still, for all its commitment to web excellence, still counts on the power of print for its daily sustenance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A NYTPicker Note To Our Readers: Yep, We Were Wrong.

Okay, we admit it: we were wrong. Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine was right. Sulzberger announced the metered paywall plan just as Sherman predicted, and precisely on schedule. Congrats on the scoop.

As long as we're on the subject of our mistakes, careful readers of The NYTPicker will notice that a long-ago post about metro reporter Julie Bosman has been taken down. An alert reader commented the other day that we'd called Bosman wrong in labelling her as "lazy." The reader was right. We've been admiring Bosman's extensive enterprise reporting on social issues in NYC since last winter. So we've removed the item, and retroactively apologize to Bosman.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hello? New York Magazine's Supposed "Scoop" Today About NYT Charging For Website Isn't A Scoop At All.

New York Magazine's supposed "scoop" today about a NYT decision to charge online readers for content was no scoop at all -- just a mish-mash of previously-reported stories, along with some carefully-hedged speculation about the future.

Stories as far back as last spring made clear that the NYT was headed inexorably towards a paid model, and was facing the very choice -- between a metered system and micropayments -- that the New York Magazine story represented today as "news."

New York Magazine says -- with no attribution whatsoever -- that the NYT "seems to have settled" on the metered system. Seems!

The story reports, again without attribution, that it will likely be "months" before the NYT begins charging, "perhaps sometime this spring." Perhaps!
An interview with NYT president and general manager Scott Heekin-Canedy, published last July in the Daily Telegraph, made clear that the NYT had already decided to go with a paid model, and had narrowed its choices to those two options.

"The climate seems to have changed," Heekin-Canedy told the Telegraph. "There seems to be more of a willingness to pay."

Reports of an internal conflict over these choices -- along with arguments in favor of keeping the website completely free -- have been frequently covered by media journalists covering the decision-making process, most notably John Koblin's excellent pieces in the New York Observer.

And anyone who believes the story's other "news" -- that the decision will be made in "days" by publisher. A. O. Sulzberger Jr. -- should recall all the "scoops" that have previously forecast an imminent decision.

From the New York Observer, way back on May 15, 2009:

By the end of June, The New York Times will come to a decision on how to charge for some of its content on the Web, The Observer has learned.

From the Daily Telegraph, nearly two months later, on July 9:

In an interview to be published in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph, Scott Heekin-Canedy, the president and general manager of The New York Times Media Group, will say that he is deciding between two charging systems – a “metered” and a “membership” model. A firm decision will come by next month.

And from today's New York Magazine post, by Gabriel Sherman:

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks.

Note the use of the conditional word "could." Very handy when a reporter has no idea if he's right or not!

Today's New York Magazine story did offer a few minor new details that may or may not be true: a NYT decision not to pursue an arrangement with Journalism Online, and a supposed attempt by News Corporation to link up with the NYT to fight Google's impact on web distribution of news.

It's worth noting that both those "facts" appeared in New York Magazine story with no attribution or elaboration.

As for the allegiances in the current debate that Sherman represented as news -- executive editor Bill Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson fighting for a paywall, with digital executive Martin Nisenholtz arguing to keep the website free -- any close reader of Nisenholtz's comments over the last year is already well aware of his concerns about charging for news.

"The reason it is taking a period of time to do this analysis is that if we don't do it right, a lot of money drops out of the system," Nisenholtz told a media conference in December. "That's not true of other newspaper Web sites, including those in our own company."

At that time, Nisenholtz confirmed in December the fact that the NYT was seriously considering the metered system followed by the Financial Times -- already reported in the Observer and elsewhere. Again: not news!

The other "news" reported by New York Magazine? That the NYT executives haven't been able to make a decision! Guess what, guys -- we already figured that out.

THE SUNDAY FUNNIES: Tom Friedman Mentions His Pal Mandelbaum For The 89th Time...It's The "Tip Of The Iceberg" Again...Kaminer Can't Read Bus Names!

A few hours ago, former NYT restaurant critic Frank Bruni (we miss you, Frank!) tweeted that there's "something for everyone" on today's NYT front page.

Maybe so, but doesn't Bruni sometimes privately wish the Sunday NYT found room for that wondrous staple of American journalism, the Sunday Funnies? We do. And so, to supplement your morning diet with a dose of dopeyness, The NYTPicker presents a new, occasional feature we're going to call The Sunday Funnies!


Where would Michael Mandelbaum, the foreign policy expert, be without his good friend Thomas L. Friedman? Looks like we'll never have to know. The NYT op-ed columnist mentioned Mandelbaum today for the 89th time in his NYT career -- a string of promotional references that stretches back to 1989!

Friedman's so nice to Mandelbaum that he often quotes him saying the same thing twice.

Here's Mandelbaum in a Friedman column on December 5, 2004:

"This is not just a win-win," said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. "This is a win-win-win-win-win."

And then, in Friedman's December 27, 2008 column, four years later:

A gasoline tax “is not just win-win; it’s win, win, win, win, win,” says the Johns Hopkins author and foreign policy specialist Michael Mandelbaum.

Here's a Mandelbaum quote from a June 23, 2009 Friedman column:

“People do not change when you tell them they should; they change when they tell themselves they must,” observed Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy specialist.

And here's almost the same quote -- with a "they" changed to a "we" -- four months later, in Friedman's October 28, 2o09 column!

“People do not change when we tell them they should,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. “They change when they tell themselves they must.”

As for their friendship, well -- Friedman has only once, in two decades of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism for the NYT, referred to Mandelbaum as his friend. But there's plenty of proof of their closeness in the acknowledgements to Friedman's books.

From Hot, Flat and Crowded:

As for the tutors and helpers, the list always starts with the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. Our endless conversations about energy, politics, and foreign policy constantly served to sharpen my arguments.

From Longitudes and Attitudes:

I benefited equally from my nearly daily conversations with Michael Mandelbaum, the foreign policy expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Michael's original mind, and his deep knowledge of history and ability to listen to my stories from the field and help me put them in context, were absolutely invaluable.

From The World Is Flat:

And special thanks to my soul mates and constant intellectual companions Michael Mandelbaum and Stephen P. Cohen. Sharing ideas with them is one of the joys of my life.

Oh, and by the way, Steve: in case you're wondering, Tom has only quoted you 69 times! We think he likes Mike better than you.


Matt Richtel's page-one story about cell-phone talking-and-walking accidents may be a little short on the tangible evidence -- the only hard numbers he's got report 1,000 pedestrians visiting emergency rooms for such accidents in 2008.

Constrast that to a NYT story back in May -- buried on page 7 of Science Times -- that reported 86,000 emergency room visits last year by people who tripped over their pet!

But it's a bona fide trend. How do we know? Simple. According to the expert Richtel quotes, it's "the tip of the iceberg"!

Yes, that classic cliche -- "the tip of the iceberg." Where would lazy reporters be without it?

At the NYT, today's reference represents, well, the tip of the iceberg. It has appeared in the NYT 56 times in the past year -- or more than once a week -- and 1,160 times since 1981. (Interesting historical note: the expression first turned up in a NYT article in 1964, nearly 52 years after the Titanic introduced the notion of iceberg perils into the lexicon.)

What does the expression mean? According to The NYTPicker Dictionary, it is defined as "a commonly-used metaphor that allows a reporter to suggest a trend where the numbers don't support it."


She's no Alessandra Stanley -- not yet. But Ariel Kaminer, the Sunday Metropolitan section's City Critic, is showing nascent signs of carelessness that could one day put her in direct competition with the NYT's correction queen.

Today's NYT corrections column includes a four-in-one for Kaminer, fixing some unfortunate flubs in her piece last week about bus routes. Somehow, Kaminer managed to make some significant errors in reading the names of the buses she rode:

The City Critic column in some editions last Sunday, about travel routes that will be affected the most by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s planned service cuts, misidentified the bus that the writer boarded in the Bronx, the beginning of one route, and misstated the route name of the bus she boarded in Queens that brought her to her destination, 26th Avenue. The Bronx bus is the Bx16, not the B16, and the Queens bus is the Q28; there is no B28 bus. The column also misstated the name of the Bronx cemetery that she passed on her travels. It is Woodlawn Cemetery, not Woodland.

Woodland Cemetery, huh? That's in Staten Island.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Will "Hurt Locker" Director Kathryn Bigelow Helm Movie Of David Rohde's Kidnap Story? Hollywood Heavies Reported In Bidding War For Rights.

The buzz in Hollywood Friday was that Kathryn Bigelow, director of "The Hurt Locker" and odds-on favorite to pick up an Academy Award or two, had the inside track to direct the movie version of reporter David Rohde's NYT series, "Held By The Taliban."

But after a day that had Bigelow and several other Hollywood heavyweights either attached to the project or circling, a NYT spokeswoman issued a sweeping denial of all published reports. "No one is attached," she said.

A few Hollywood blogs picked up the Bigelow story as fact yesterday from a Thursday night tweet by Production Weekly. But by Friday afternoon, agents at International Creative Management (which represents the NYT in Hollywood) denied any deal with Bigelow to the The Hollywood Reporter.

Still, THR reported -- implying ICM as its source -- that the articles were already being circulated to "certain studios" with A-listers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall -- longtime associates of Steven Spielberg who've produced the "Bourne" trilogy and "Seabiscuit" -- on board to produce the adaptation.

Making the property even hotter -- at least in theory -- was the reported late entry of director Terence Malick in the race to make a movie from Rohde's account of his seven-month kidnapping by the Taliban last year. The NYT series, published in October, chronicled Rohde's capture, ordeal, and eventual escape over the wall of a Taliban compound in Pakistan last June.

Malick -- the celebrated, reclusive director of "Days Of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" -- is said by the Hollywood Reporter to want to pitch his own version of the material to studios with himself attached as producer. But as the Reporter story made clear, this scenario would seem unlikely with Kennedy and Marshall already on board.

THR went on to report that playwright Stephen Belber, the writer-director of "Management," the 2008 film starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn, was attached to write the screenplay.

But by Friday evening, a NYT spokeswoman denied to an MTV News blog that there was any truth to the accounts:

"This report is inaccurate. There is no movie deal," a Times spokeswoman told MTV News. Additionally, she countered "The Hollywood Reporter"'s claim that producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and screenwriter Stephen Belber were attached as well. "There is no deal and no one is attached to the project," the spokeswoman stated.

Really? Because THR reported that "the deal for the articles, and who will direct or produce, is likely to be decided by the end of this weekend."

The spokeswoman's statement also didn't address whether a movie version of Rohde's story might finally address the questions left unanswered by Rohde's accout.

Here are just a few questions that remain:

Did the NYT consider paying a ransom for his release? New York Magazine reported that the paper had authorized a $2 million ransom payment, and the NYT has declined to comment on whether the paper had done so. The paper has only said publicly that "no ransom was paid."

Did the NYT, through its security consultants, pay Taliban guards to allow Rohde to escape? It makes little sense that a notoriously tough terrorist group would allow two prisoners to escape over a wall without notice. At the time of Rohde's release, Matthew Cole in New York Magazine reported that a bribe was paid to Taliban guards "to look the other way" during Rohde's late-night climb over the 20-foot wall.

Rohde acknowledged that money was paid to the Taliban through its consultants, though says he was told the cash never reached the guards:

Security consultants who worked on our case said cash was paid to Taliban members who said they knew our whereabouts. But the consultants said they were never able to identify or establish contact with the guards who were living with us.

As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in November, that statement "doesn't necessarily mean that the Times’s money never got to" the guards.

Why did the terrorists demand a wall of silence from media organizations, which prompted the NYT to beg journalists not to report the Rohde kidnapping? And why, with Rohde's account, did the NYT allow an incomplete version of events to be reported in the newspaper of record?

Rohde's series only offered readers his first-hand account of the ordeal -- compelling, but incomplete -- an approach that some readers questioned after it was published. NYT executive editor Bill Keller admitted that those questions were "legitimate" and agreed that its handling of the story was "unusual," but "not unprecedented."

When the series was published in November, a number of readers also wondered again about the NYT's decision to keep the kidnapping quiet. Keller pointed out that a media blackout often helps secure a release, but acknowledged that the Taliban's demand for silence -- which the NYT gave to other media organizations as the sole reason they should suppress their stories on Rohde -- didn't really make sense.

"In one of the first calls to our Kabul bureau, the kidnappers warned us not to publicize the crime," Keller told readers in a Q&A on the NYT's "At War" blog. "I don’t know how to reconcile that with their craving for attention except to say that we got a lot of mixed, even contradictory, messages from the captors. At the time, we had no reason not to take their call to keep quiet as a serious threat."

Will the Rohde movie finally explain what efforts were made at the NYT, within the American military, by outside security consultants and throughout the Middle East to secure his release? Even with a brilliant, no-holds-barred filmmaker like Kathryn Bigelow involved, we're not holding our breath.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The NYT's Haiti Coverage. Amazing.

The lede from "Hopes Fade in Quake-Ravaged Haiti, and Anger Rises," NYT Carribean correspondent Mark Lacey's lead page-one story today, with images from the NYT's Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Damon Winter:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The distance between life and death narrowed in this flattened city on Thursday, with survival two days after the huge earthquake struck depending increasingly on the luck of being freed from under rubble, on treating the thousands of wounded and on speeding the halting flow of emergency food and water.

“Get me out!” came the haunting voice of a teenager, Jhon Verpre Markenley, from a dark crevice of the trade school that collapsed around him and fellow students.

Mr. Verpre’s father risked his own life to save his son’s, crouching deep into the hole with a blowtorch to try to wear away the metal that had his son’s leg pinned down inside. Hours later, the young man was free. His mother danced.

By Thursday evening, the Haitian president, René Préval, said that 7,000 people had already been buried in a mass grave. Hundreds of corpses piled up outside the city’s morgue, next to a hospital struggling to prevent those numbers from rising. On street corners, people pulled their shirts up over their faces to filter out the thickening smell of the dead.

With reports of looting and scuffles over water and food, President Obama promised $100 million in aid, as the first wave of a projected 5,000 American troops began arriving to provide security and the infrastructure for the expected flood of aid from around the world.

“You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten,” Mr. Obama told the Haitian people in an emotional address at the White House on Thursday. “In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do As We Say, Not As We Do: NYT's Chicago News Cooperative Commits Same Sin As Washington Post Story It Criticized Last Week.

Last Thursday, the NYT raised questions in print about the Washington Post for publishing a story that appeared to do the bidding of the chairman of the outside journalism supplier that provided the piece.

But Sunday's NYT Chicago edition published a column from its own outside news supplier, the Chicago News Cooperative, that appears guilty of the same sin.

James Warren's Sunday column was headlined "University of Chicago, a Bright Spot for the City," and amounted mostly to a wet kiss to a new book by former Columbia provost Jonathan R. Cole called "The Great American University." Warren calls the book "masterly" and devotes 11 paragraphs to discussing its conclusions and interviewing Cole -- focusing primarily, and positively, on the University of Chicago's history and approach.

But Warren's column forgets to disclose two relevant facts.

One, the book Warren wrote so warmly and extensively about -- and whose author is his primary source -- was edited by Peter Osnos, who is the co-founder and chairman of the board of the Chicago News Cooperative, which employs Warren and produced the NYT column.

Two, another CNC board member is former Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, who now works as the University of Chicago's vice president for Civic Engagement.

Ordinarily, we might not have noticed the connections between Warren's piece and the board of the CNC, which has been brought in to provide editorial content for the NYT's Chicago edition.

But it seems quite relevant in light of last Friday's NYT story that chastised the Washington Post for a similar transgression -- in which a story published by an outside news supplier, The Fiscal Times, failed to disclose the connections between a story's source and the supplier's board chairman.

The NYT's primary criticism of the Post story was that reporters for the Fiscal Times had failed to note, in quoting a source from the Concord Coalition for an economic policy story, that the Coalition was funded by its own founder, Peter Peterson.

This NYT story has a similar flaw: it positively reviews a book edited by Osnos, its board chairman, but fails to disclose that fact to the reader, or mention Osnos's longtime connection to Public Affairs, which he founded and where he is now editor-at-large.

Cole generously thanks Osnos in the acknowledgements to the book being reviewed, saying:

Peter Osnos, the founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs, has undersood with eceptional clarity the message that I wanted to send to people around the world who harbor an interest in the essential features of truly distinguished univresities. He has applied his brilliant analystic and editorial skills throughout the publishing process to sharpen the focus of the manuscript.

The NYT's story about the Washington Post raised two central problems about the paper's arrangement with the Concord Coalition: a lack of transparency (i.e., no disclosure to readers) and a built-in bias.

The same issues appear at play here. Osnos has a built-in bias for the book he edited -- which forms the thesis of Warren's piece -- and Lipinski, the fellow board member, has a built-in bias for her employer, the University of Chicago, which earns a rave.

And so it stands to reason that a favorable piece about the book and the University of Chicago -- produced by a new organization with such apparent biases -- ought to disclose them to NYT readers, in the same manner it suggests the Washington Post should have done last week.

UPDATE: Peter Osnos, chairman of the board of the Chicago News Cooperative and Cole's editor at PublicAffairs, has told The NYTPicker that Warren's rave review on Sunday was a "complete coincidence." He adds that the CNC and PublicAffairs "have no connection other than my role in both enterprises."

Which is exactly the point!

Here's the full text of Osnos's original email statement to The NYTPicker:

Tks for your query. Complete coincidence. As I understand it, Geoffrey Stone of University of Chicago called book to Warren’s attention. I am not involved in any aspect of editorial decisions at CNC. I am chair of the advisory board.

When asked by us in a followup email if there should have been disclosure of the connection in Warren's column, Osnos replied:

CNC and PublicAffairs have no connection other than my role in both enterprises. To have pointed that out would be of the narrowest possible interest to any reader in my view. Just to be clear: I had absolutely nothing to do with Jim’s column about the book. I am glad that he and others find the book admirable.

We're still waiting for comments from Warren, the NYT, and James O'Shea, the editor of the Chicago News Cooperative. contacted the NYT for comment and will update.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A New Record? NYT Publishes 36 Corrections Today, Including Eight On One Story -- And The Year's First From TV Critic Alessandra Stanley.

Sunday's always a big corrections day in the NYT -- it's the day when the paper posts corrections in all its special Sunday sections. It's not unusual to find a dozen or more mistakes fixed on any given Sunday.

But 36?

It may or may not be a record -- we don't have the energy to plow through more than 100 years of back issues -- but today's NYT corrections column is large as any we've been able to find in recent memory. And it's hard not to see the surge as a reflection of what happens to a newspaper that has lost more than 200 editorial employees to buyouts and layoffs in the last two years.

A whopping eight of today's corrections came from one piece, a Travel essay from T Magazine last November by freelance writer Maria Shollenbarger about Friesland, a Dutch province that has become a winter vacation destination. The NYT described it only as "a number" of errors, and explained that the correction was "delayed for research."

But one problem remains: when you go to the original article, the mistakes still stand uncorrected, and with no notation that a correction has been published. It's NYT procedure to fix its errors online, and to append a correction. Is the T Magazine -- with its swanky layouts that don't lend themselves to correction -- exempt from that policy?

(UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, we got an email from a T Magazine web producer telling us that the correction had at last been appended. "T is not exempt from the standard Times correction policy, the producer, Seth Carlson, told The NYTPicker. "In this case, the delay in appending the correction was a technical issue related to the recent redesign of the T website.")

It's worth noting that T: Travel has been prone to mistakes in the past. Last March, The NYTPicker noted eight separate corrections on one issue of the magazine. More recently, the magazine got into trouble for allowing a freelancer to promote her ex-boyfriend's burger restaurant in Miami -- a rule violation caught by The NYTPicker that earned an Editor's Note and a scolding from public editor Clark Hoyt.

Many of the other mistakes reflect sloppy reporting by NYT staffers that weren't caught by editors. Just a few examples:

Donald Trump is 63, not 62 -- a mistake made by metro reporter Alan Feuer.

The Four Seasons Restaurant is not affiliated with the Four Seasons Hotel, an editing error.

Whitestone is in Queens, not the Bronx, a mistake made by freelance contributor James Vescovi.

Today's NYT Magazine essay about "underwater mortgages" gets the identities wrong of those who incorrectly believe their mortgages will go up in value -- a mistake made by contributing writer Roger Lowenstein.

Comedian Jean Carroll was born on January 7, 1911, not January 6 (coincidentally -- or not -- Wikipedia makes the same error), and did not write for the soap opera "Our Gal Sunday." That was another Jean Carroll. Those mistakes were made by NYT obits writer Margalit Fox.

Other mistakes included an answer in last week's Education Life Pop Quiz, the spellings of various names, the gender of Cameron Barr (a man, not a woman), and several baseball statistics.

Today's correction column also marked the first mistake of 2010 for TV critic Alessandra Stanley, whose legendary carelessness culminated in a six-error correction last summer on her appraisal of Walter Cronkite's career.

In her Arts & Leisure column regarding men on television last week, Stanley incorrectly reported that the series "In Plain Sight" airs on TNT. It's a USA show.

Corrections are a fact of life in journalism -- in newspapers, on television, at websites -- and we don't usually make a habit of harping on the NYT's reporting of mistakes. A correction is an appropriate sign of contrition, and acknowledgement of human error.

But when the newspaper of record starts racking up this many corrections in a single day, maybe it's a sign that editors and reporters need to be a bit more vigilant in checking facts and copy before hitting the send key. Remember, 63-year-old Donald Trump will be watching you.

UPDATE: NYT Styles Section "Corrects" Nearly Three-Year-Old Photo Of Jeremy Blake It Ran With Last Week's Nightclub-Smoking Trend Story.

Last Sunday, The NYTPicker reported that the NYT Styles section ran a nearly three-year-old photograph of a nightclub smoker -- who turned out to be the famous, dead painter Jeremy Blake -- to illustrate a supposedly recent trend of smokers flouting city's smoking ban.

Today, the NYT ran a "correction" of the photo in the Styles section, acknowledging that it shouldn't have been published:

A picture last Sunday with an article about New York nightclub patrons who flout the city’s smoking ban was published in error. The photograph of two men was taken in 2007 and is not a recent example of the numerous bars where smoking is now tolerated. The man in sunglasses, who was not identified, is the artist Jeremy Blake, who died that year.

EARLIER: To Illustrate "New Brazenness" Of Nightclub Smokers, Styles Section Uses Nearly Three-Year-Old Photo Of Dead Artist Jeremy Blake. The NYTPicker, January 3, 2010.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

BREAKING: Something At The NYT Is Making People Sick! As A Precaution, Sulzberger Announces Closure Of Cafeteria.

This memo just went out to all NYT staff under the heading, "A Note From Arthur And Janet." (That's Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher, and Janet Robinson, president.)


We have learned that several Times Company employees have become ill with gastrointestinal symptoms over the past 24 hours. We are working with the New York City Department of Health and Restaurant Associates to determine if the cause of these symptoms was food-based and will provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.

While we do not know if the cause is food-related, as a precaution, we are closing the cafeteria for the day.

In order to understand what the cause is, we need to know who has been affected and when. Please contact [name redacted], at 212-556-XXXX or if you have experienced any possible symptoms. Thank you.

As far as we know, all affected employees are on the mend.

Arthur and Janet

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Is This Man Laughing? NYT Slaps Misleading 5-Month-Old Photo Of Iranian President Across Three Columns At Top Of Today's Front Page.

Today's lead page-one story about Iran's use of tunnels to hide its atomic materials was a legitimate scoop -- an inside look into the country's secret, ongoing nuclear efforts.

But when it came to illustrate it, NYT editors grabbed a five-month-old agency photo -- one that had absolutely nothing to do with the story -- and slapped it across three columns at the top of today's front page.

In fact, today's page-one photo was taken last June 29. According to caption information on the website of Getty Images, which owns the photo, it shows President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visiting "the construction site of a tunnel on the road between Tehran and Chalus, northwest of Tehran."

In other words, it's a highway tunnel -- not at all the sort of secret tunnel described in reporter William J. Broad's story. It's also a blatant attempt to mislead readers into thinking a photographer has captured the Iranian president -- smiling -- as he inspects his country's secret stash of nuclear weapons.

This represents another sorry example of the sloppiness that seems to have pervaded the NYT in recent days. Just last Sunday, the Styles section ran a nearly three-year-old photo of a famous, now-dead painter to accompany a story about nightclub smoking.

Given the incessant bragging the NYT does about its continued commitment to first-rate international news coverage, you might think its photo editors --charged with the task of finding a front-page picture -- might do more than type the words "Ahmadinejad tunnel" into a photo agency search engine.

To be fair, the NYT's caption confessed the cheat, but without acknowledging when it was taken, and by adding an odd, hair-splitting non sequitur that only a careful reader might comprehend:

"President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, center, at a highway tunnel near Tehran. Much of Iran's atomic work is also in tunnels."

In other words -- that picture you just looked at? Nothing to do with the story. Just a nice picture of Ahmadinejad in a tunnel, at the top of the front page of a newspaper whose managing editor Jill Abramson declared, a year ago today:

"Our journalism has never been more glorious."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Real Problem: NYT Lets Freelancer David Pogue Bend Ethics Rules. It's Time To Either Enforce The Rules Equally, Or Change Them.

In a comment on our website several minutes ago, NYT technology columnist David Pogue vehemently defended himself against accusations of NYT ethics rules violations.

But Pogue not only got the rules wrong, he didn't both mention the other rules the NYT has that govern public speaking -- most of which he has gotten around, without any consequence, by getting the NYT's approval.

Here's the real problem: While the NYT has fired talented young freelancers like Mike Albo for technical infractions of its byzantine rules, it has chosen not to enforce those same rules on Pogue, simply because he's too valuable to discipline, or to fire.

In fact -- despite his continued insistence that he follows all the NYT's ethics rules -- Pogue has a speaking engagement lined up at MacWorld next month that yet again breaks them. But, as usual, the NYT will look the other way.

Here's part of what Pogue declared in his most recent comment to The NYTPicker:

Edward (and other commenters) miss a key point here: the Times DOES NOT prohibit staffers from speaking to corporations in general!

The rule is this: "Staff members should be sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups *that might figure in their coverage.*"

In other words, you can't accept payment for speaking at a company I MIGHT WRITE ABOUT (or its competitors). So Raytheon is fine--I have never written about Raytheon, and never will.

But it is, in fact, Pogue who has missed a key point here. Here is what the NYT rule Pogue cites says in full:

Speaking before community audiences or educational groups can benefit our company by helping the public understand what we do. But before appearing before an outside group, we must be sure we are not likely to create an actual or apparent conflict of interest or undermine public trust in the impartiality of our journalism.

In other words, the rule Pogue cites as justification? It has only to do with speaking before "community audiences and educational groups." And the NYT even restricts those sorts of appearances, in the next paragraph of the rules:

Staff members should be sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups that might figure in their coverage, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group. Before accepting such an invitation, a staff member must consult with newsroom management. Generally, for example, an editor who deals with political campaigns might comfortably address a library gathering but not appear before a civic group that endorses issues or candidates. An environmental reporter can appropriately speak to a horticultural society but not to conservation groups known for their efforts to influence public policy.

Still, Pogue says that his appearances in front of for-profit corporations -- transportation and accommodations provided at the company's expense -- don't go against NYT rules.

"Raytheon is fine," Pogue declares.

But while the NYT rules allow speaking to profit-making institutions with the paper's permission, they state that the NYT -- not the company -- must pay the speaker's expenses.

To avoid an appearance of undue closeness, staff members may not accept invitations to speak before a single company (for example, at a corporate executive retreat) or an industry assembly (such as organized baseball's winter meeting) unless newsroom management agrees that the appearance is useful and does not undermine our reputation for impartiality. In such a case, our company should pay any expenses; no speaker's fee should be accepted.

In other words, NYT rules would allow Pogue to speak at a Raytheon retreat, as he did in November at Disney World, with the paper's permission -- but only if the NYT pays his travel and accommodation expenses.

Anyone want to bet whether the NYT paid for Pogue's trip to Disney World?

As for Pogue's forthcoming speech at MacWorld in San Francisco next month -- well, here's the rule that should theoretically keep Pogue from appearing:

Staff members should not accept invitations from outside our company to speak where their function is to attract customers to an event primarily intended as profit-making.

MacWorld is, of course, a for-profit annual trade show that charges large admission fees to people and companies that follow products made by Apple. Pogue has been a frequent speaker at the annual event. The NYT rule directly prohibits such speeches.

The NYT is surely well aware that Pogue's MacWorld appearances goes against the rules, but has apparently made a decision to turn a blind eye to his trade-show work.

When The NYTPicker reported on a Pogue appearance at a Consumer Electronics Association trade show last June, then-NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis issued a statement that gently chastised Pogue for his appearance, but acknowledged it would do nothing to discipline him:

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.

It's true that the vast majority of Pogue's appearances play by the NYT rules, such as speeches to libraries, educational conferences, and so forth. Those are the speeches that dominate his schedule.

It's when Pogue's appearances go against the point of the NYT rules (such as the Raytheon talk, and the forthcoming MacWorld speech) that the NYT's double standard becomes clear. The NYT will ignore Pogue's activities, while policing the behavior of other NYT contributors to the point of firing them for a single infraction -- or even just the prospect of one.

This past week, according to Public Editor Clark Hoyt, the NYT "parted company" with freelancer Joshua Robinson because of a suggestion that he was attempting to get free airline tickets from an airline magazine to do travel stories. Nowhere in Hoyt's account of what happened was there any suggestion that Robinson ever received a free ticket from anyone. While he may have broken NYT rules, there doesn't appear to be a significant ethical lapse in his behavior.

Meanwhile, the NYT permits all of Pogue's outside activities for one reason: he is hugely popular with readers and with advertisers, at a time when the NYT is struggling to survive. Pogue's power to attract readers to the NYT website is virtually unmatched by any of his peers.

There's no question, as several commentators have suggested this week, that the NYT's ethics rules need adjustment in its new, freelance-driven universe. "The system is not working well," Clark Hoyt conceded in today's column.

In fact, the system is broken. It's clearly unfair to make outside contributors (even ones as successful as Pogue) conform to the same strict regulations that govern staffers who get all their expenses paid by the NYT -- not to mention their union salaries and health-insurance premiums.

But as long as the current rules are in force, the NYT will apparently continue to let Pogue keep bending them with its permission. It needs to either enforce the rules equally on all contributors, or change them. We vote for a change.

To Illustrate "New Brazenness" Of Nightclub Smokers, Styles Section Uses Nearly Three-Year-Old Photo Of Dead Artist Jeremy Blake.

In today's Styles section, NYT contributor Douglas Quenqua reports on a supposed trend of nightclub patrons flouting the law and lighting up in local trendy nightclubs -- a "new brazenness," Quenqua calls it.

New? Maybe, but the NYT's use of a nearly three-year-old image of famous painter Jeremy Blake smoking a cigarette at the Beatrice Inn doesn't illustrate the point. As many NYT readers know -- and the paper itself reported in a 647-word obituary -- Blake committed suicide in the summer of 2007, at the age of 35.

Blake, whose paintings appeared in the Paul Thomas Anderson film "Punch Drunk Love," is believed to have killed himself by walking into the Atlantic Ocean on July 17, 2007, despondent over the suicide death one week earlier of his girlfriend, the video game creator Theresa Duncan.

The photograph used by the NYT was taken on May 23, 2007 by Bryan Bedder, at the Beatrice Inn after-party for the premiere of "Chicago 10," a 2007 documentary. The shot is owned by Getty Images, and caption information on Getty's website identifies the person sitting at Blake's right as Sam Rumba.

The use of the Blake photo raises a couple of interesting questions. Why would the NYT run a photo of a well-known artist -- knowing that many readers would recognize him -- without identifying him in the caption? And why would the NYT run a nearly three-year-old photograph to illustrate a story that purports to document a recent phenomenon?

We've emailed NYT Styles editor Trip Gabriel with our questions, and will update with his response.

But it seems likely that the NYT photo editors simply scanned the files for photos of smokers in nightclubs, with no regard to dates or identities. However it happened, it strikes us as an eerie and unfortunate mistake.

UPDATE: NYT Fires Columnist After NYTPicker Uncovers Ethics Breach. Public Editor Clark Hoyt Calls Situation "An Embarrassment" To NYT.

Mary Tripsas, the Harvard business school professor who wrote a positive column about a 3M customer innovation center after taking an all-expense-paid trip from the company to see it, has been fired from her column by the NYT.

The ethics breach by Tripsas was first reported by The NYTPicker last Sunday, the day the puff-piece column appeared in the NYT's Sunday Business section. It had been Tripsas's fifth "Prototype" column for the section.

NYT editors and NYT spokesperson Abbe Serphos ignored repeated requests for comment from The NYTPicker this week about the Tripsas column. The news of her dismissal comes in Public Editor Clark Hoyt's column today. Hoyt also reports that the NYT has "parted company" with freelancer Joshua Robinson after learning that he was using his NYT connection to get free airline tickets.

The NYT has also published an Editor's Note in its Sunday editions, acknowledging Tripsas's violation of NYT ethics rules and saying that had the NYT known of her acceptance of travel and hotel expenses from 3M, it would have not have published the column:

The Prototype column last Sunday, about customer innovation centers, reported on a program at the 3M Company’s headquarters in St. Paul and described the company as being “at the forefront of a movement” in which corporations meet face to face with customers to elicit feedback. After the column was published, The Times learned that 3M had provided travel and accommodations for the freelance writer during a visit to the company’s headquarters in November.

Times policy prohibits reporters from accepting such expenses or other payment from companies they cover. Had the editors known of the circumstances of the trip, the column would not have been published in that form.

In Hoyt's column, Tripsas acknowledges to the Public Editor that she didn't adequately read the NYT's freelance guidelines that spell out the paper's ethics rules.

"I should have," Tripsas told Hoyt.

NYT standards editor Philip Corbett told Hoyt that "we haven't done enough" to ensure compliance with the rules by NYT freelancers, who contribute significantly to the paper.

Hoyt also reviewed the dismissal of Mike Albo, one of the paper's "Critical Shopper" columnists, who was fired in November for accepting a junket to Jamaica that didn't directly relate to his column, but that nevertheless broke the NYT's rules.

In his Sunday column, Hoyt admitted that "the system is not working well: these cases keep coming up with dismaying frequency."

Hoyt attributed the problem in part to the fact that the system is "so elaborate — written booklet, written contract, written questionnaire — that editors take false comfort and neglect the most important element: constant conversation with freelancers over every assignment about the paper’s expectations."

Hoyt's column neglects to mention of the ongoing ethical issues raised by the travel schedule of David Pogue, the NYT's technology columnist, who frequently accepts free plane tickets and accommodations from corporations the NYT covers.

Pogue, also a freelance NYT contributor, is one of the paper's most valuable assets. That may have something to do with the fact that while Albo and Tripsas have lost their jobs, Pogue continues to keep his gig while traveling the country -- courtesy of corporations who pay him to speak at retreats and confabs, identifying himself as a NYT columnist. It's a double standard that NYT has yet to address.