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.