Sunday, February 28, 2010

The New NYT "Beliefs" Columnist Is A Weisenheimer. We Like That.

Every so often, The NYTPicker likes to note things about the NYT that actually bode well for the future. Sure, it violates our well-honed sense of sarcasm and moral outrage, but hey -- even Dan Barry's column today wasn't half bad.

Anyway, we use this occasion to welcome a new columnist to the NYT's midst: Mark Oppenheimer, who has replaced the stuffy Peter Steinfels as the paper's every-other-week "Beliefs" columnist. He's biting, funny and smart. You should read him.

In his debut column yesterday, Oppenheimer issued an impassioned diatribe against Marc Theissen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush who has used Catholic doctrine as a defense of waterboarding, the torture technique made fashionable by his former boss.

"This does not square, to put it mildly, with the common understanding of Catholic teaching," Oppenheimer declared in his column's third paragraph. He went on to gather considerable evidence that Theissen's views don't dovetail with the views of mainstream conservative Catholics -- and in the end, eviscerates him.

Hard to imagine Steinfels doing that -- or, for that matter, the NYT's other religion columnist, the reliably dull Samuel G. Freedman.

We emailed Oppenheimer a few questions about himself yesterday, but he never wrote back -- no surprise given that he makes clear on his website: "I don’t really like e-mail, but the world being what it is, I have to have it. For now, at least. I suppose that some people, like Joan Didion and Garry Wills, can choose not to have it. So I have it, but I’d rather you call so that we can talk."

We like the fact that Oppenheimer's resume ranges from a brief stint as an alt-weekly editor to his more recent job as a writing lecturer at Yale -- with a Ph.D in religious studies thrown into the mix. He even writes for Mother Jones.

But it's Oppenheimer's books that intrigue us the most, especially his latest, "Weisenheimer." It's a memoir about Oppenheimer's stressful childhood as a brainiac, and how his world-class debating skills helped him emerge from his shell. We can relate! Debaters and NYTPickers share a bond.

"Weisnheimer" comes out in April, and we'll buy a copy. In the meantime we'll be reading Oppenheimer's "Beliefs" column. Religiously.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Again, NYT Alters Key Assertions In Paterson Phone Call Scenario Without Explanation. Contradictions Mount.

In its latest story on the phone call between David Paterson and the woman who accused his personal aide of brutally attacking her -- written by David Kocieniewski and posted at 2:32 p.m. today on the paper's website -- the NYT has yet again quietly revised its reporting on the story, without disclosure to its readers.

This marks the second time in less than 24 hours that the NYT has reported new, contradictory elements of this ongoing page-one investigation of the New York State governor -- without alerting its readers to the contradictions in any way, or offering any explanation.

A previous post on The NYTPicker detailed changes made to the print version of today's blockbuster story, also without disclosure or explanation.

This time, without noting the change, the NYT altered its reporting of both Paterson's account of the call, and on the version of events offered by the woman's lawyer, Lawrence B. Saftler.

Given the crucial nature of these events to the story itself -- the NYT is reporting tonight that the governor is being pressured to resign -- the NYT's repeated changes to its account strikes us as sloppy reporting on a story of huge significance to its readers.

This afternoon's story reported:

On Wednesday, Mr. Paterson said the woman, who had accused his aide of choking and otherwise assaulting her in their Bronx apartment last fall, called him on Feb. 7 merely to reassure him that she was not the source of rumors circulating about the governor’s private life.

But the NYT's original account of Paterson's Wednesday comment -- included in the print edition this morning -- said only this:

Through a spokesman, Mr. Paterson said the call actually took place the day before the scheduled court hearing and maintained that the woman had initiated it. He declined to answer further questions about his role in the matter.

If Paterson in fact told the NYT on Wednesday that the woman had called him "merely to reassure him that she was not the source of rumors circulating about the governor’s private life," why did that not appear in the NYT account of Paterson's statement on Thursday morning? That seems as though it would have been worth reporting.

In fact, the first published reference to the discussion between Paterson and the woman about the rumors appeared not in the NYT, but on the Daily News website this morning.

So, did Paterson say this to the NYT on Wednesday, or not? It's not at all clear from the two contradictory accounts.

This afternoon's story goes on to report:

But Lawrence B. Saftler, the lawyer for the woman, contradicted both those claims Thursday. Mr. Saftler said that the woman was called, unbidden, by a female intermediary on behalf of Mr. Paterson on Feb. 7 and told that the governor wanted her to call him, which she did.

The NYT neglects to point out in this story that Saftler's account contradicts not only the Governor's claims, but also Saftler's own assertions in the NYT print edition this morning.

In this morning's paper, the NYT reported:

Then early this month, days before she was due to return to court to seek a final protective order, the woman got a phone call from the governor, according to her lawyer.

NYT Quietly Revises Paterson Blockbuster Overnight. Is It Still A Blockbuster? Maybe Not So Much.

When the NYT's latest David Paterson blockbuster hit the web last night, reaction focused on its most explosive revelation: that the Governor himself had called a woman who had accused his close aide of domestic violence, at some point before a scheduled court hearing.

But by the time the print edition hit doorsteps this morning, a new dimension had been inserted in the story: Paterson's spokesman told the NYT that the woman had herself initiated the call.

In the context of the overall story -- an investigative coup that revealed the murky role the New York State Police may have played in pressuring the woman not to pursue legal recourse against the Paterson aide -- this may seem insignificant to some. Indeed, The NYTPicker is already on record supporting the NYT's effort to hold Paterson accountable for the domestic violence accusations against his aide, David Johnson.

But a careful reading of the 2023-word story shows that the NYT uncovered no clear evidence of any wrongdoing by the Governor. Indeed, if the woman in the case called the governor, a reader could plausibly infer an alternative scenario of events in which the woman may have sought some form of influence with the governor, rather than the other way around.

And so, readers are now left with two conflicting scenarios: the assertion by a lawyer that the governor called his client -- and an inference that he did so to exert influence over a court proceeding -- and the assertion by the governor that the client called him.

Adding to the confusion is the story's murky timeline, and its apparent dependence for sourcing on the woman's lawyer, Lawrence B. Saftler, who only selectively revealed information about the case to the team of NYT reporters.

And at least one significant element from the seventh paragraph of the last night's story -- one that cast a confusing light on Saftler's reliability as a source -- has been quietly removed overnight from the version that appeared in the print edition.

In the web account last night, Saftler would only place the Governor's call on a date somewhere between February 1 and February 8, the date of the hearing:

"The woman's lawyer said Paterson's call came sometime between Feb. 1 and Feb. 8, the scheduled court date," the story stated.

This seemed a jarring lack of specificity, given that the call supposedly took place only a few weeks ago -- and that the exact date of the call is crucial to the timeline of events.

After the NYT added the statement from Paterson's spokesman -- which said "the call actually took place the day before the scheduled hearing," of February 7 -- the NYT removed the sentence referring to Saftler's imprecise revelation about the supposed Paterson call.

The NYT's decision to remove the Satler reference after posting the story reflects one of two possibilities: either an acceptance of Paterson's version of events -- which would mean that the NYT ought to also believe his statement that the woman placed the call -- or a desire to reduce readers' questioning of Saftler as a reliable source for what took place.

The NYT story doesn't reveal any information about Saftler. But it seems worth mentioning that he is, in fact, a personal injury lawyer with no apparent experience in criminal proceedings at any time in his career.

Curiously, Saftler has made one previous appearance in the NYT -- in an August 1992 story that describes his role in a personal-injury case seeking $5 million in damages from the stepmother of Barbara Bush, the wife of then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush.

The story -- by then-political reporter Alessandra Stanley -- strongly hinted at the idea that Saftler was pursuing public attention for his case, as a means to get a large settlement from the Bushes:

"They coughed up money for Neil Bush," Mr. Saftler said referring to the President's son, who received family assistance to pay fines associated with the collapse of the Silverado Savings and Loan, of which he was a director. "Why not for my client?"

In the third paragraph of today's page-one story, the NYT clearly attributes to Satler the assertion that the governor placed the call to his aide's accuser.

"Then, just before she was due to return to court to seek a final protective order, the woman got a phone call from the governor, according to her lawyer," the NYT reports. "She failed to appear for her next hearing on Feb. 8, and as a result her case was dismissed."

The clear intimation of that paragraph -- in a story that raises "questions of influence" in the headline -- is that Paterson sought to influence the woman by calling her.

But in the story's seventh paragraph -- added to the account at some point after 11:00 p.m., after wire-service accounts, Twitter and blogs had all breathlessly reported on the Governor's call as the NYT story's most significant revelation -- the Governor directly contradicted Saftler's version of events.

"Through a spokesman," the new paragraph reported, "Mr. Paterson said the call actually took place the day before the scheduled court hearing and maintained that the woman had initiated it."

The NYT account had already hedged in making any assertions of impropriety against the governor -- noting in the third paragraph that "many details of the governor's role in this episode are unclear."

But in the same sentence, the NYT asserts vaguely that its reporting revealed "an effort to make a potential political embarrassment go away." It attributes that statement to court and police records, and interviews with "the woman's lawyer and others." No mention is made of who those "others" might be. Nor does its specify who made the "effort."

Beyond that, some aspects of Saftler's statements to the NYT appear quite murky and non-specific for an investigative story of this magnitude, making serious allegations against a sitting governor.

For example, the story acknowledges that during the one-minute phone call, "the governor never mentioned the court case" involving Saftler's client. The NYT reports that the lawyer "would not say if the call had influenced her decision not to return to court."

The confusion stemming from Saftler's statements seems quite relevant in light of the fact that Saftler also gave the NYT one of its most explosive revelations: a specific quote from the Governor that seems meant to imply a trade of influence for silence:

The woman’s lawyer, Lawrence B. Saftler, said that the conversation lasted about a minute and that the governor asked how she was doing and if there was anything he could do for her. “If you need me,” he said, according to Mr. Saftler, “I’m here for you.”

But the meaning of those words seem quite different when interpreted as a response to the call from the woman, rather than as a call placed by the governor.

In other words, if the woman called the Governor, it would appear appropriate for Paterson -- who, as the NYT loves to point out, is a strong opponent of domestic violence -- to offer his help. But if the Governor reached out to her on the eve of her court hearing, those words could be construed as having the desire to trade such help for her silence.

It should be noted that perhaps the two statements don't contradict one another completely. The Governor's statement alleged that the woman "initiated" the call, which may mean that the Governor did call her -- but that he was returning her call. This would mean that Saftler's assertion to the NYT that Paterson called her was technically correct, but a misleading recounting of what took place, making Saftler appear to be a suspect source.

What we know for certain is that today's NYT story didn't satisfactorily answer readers' questions about the actions of either the governor or the woman, in connection with what took place -- or didn't -- between them.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Correction Of The Day: New Yorker Editor David Remnick Did Not Say The Words "Pimped Out." He Said The Words "Pumped Up."

Just appended to Dave Itzkoff's ArtsBeat blog post, reporting on New Yorker editor David Remnick's new Obama biography, due out in April:

An earlier version of this post misquoted Mr. Remnick on his comparison between the book and a New Yorker article he had previously written. He said the book would not be a “pumped up” version of the article; he did not say that it would not be a “pimped out” version of the article.

(Photograph of David Remnick courtesy of The New Yorker)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

NYT's Obit Policy: We Run Them Whenever We Get Around To It. Hey, It's Not Like The Subject's Gonna Call And Complain.

When it comes to obituaries, the NYT is not so much the Newspaper of Record as it is the Newspaper Of Whenever We Get Around To It.

Of the 16 obituaries published by the NYT in the last week, eight were of people who died more than a week before the obit appeared -- and whose deaths had already been noted in newspapers elsewhere, several days earlier.

From today's obits:

Georgelle Hirliman, the "Writer In The Window" lady whose obit appears in today's NYT, died on January 29 -- and her death was noted in the Santa Fe New Mexican on February 7, two weeks ago.

Allan Kornblum, a former FBI counsel, died on February 12 -- and the Washington Post reported it on February 14, a week ago. (An added oddity: the NYT website says Kornblum's obit appears on page A24 of today's paper, but it isn't there.)

And on and on.

In other words, the reason for the delay in reporting the deaths of these prominent people isn't that no one knew they were dead.

In every instance, these deaths had been reported several days (or, in some instances, more than a week) earlier by other publications, including prominent places like the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post -- and in one case, in the NYT's own paid death notices.

Is the NYT obit team seriously so lazy that it ignores the obits in other major newspapers, and doesn't even bother to look at the death notices in the NYT itself? Yikes.

The NYT obituaries pages have been posing a problem for the paper in other ways recently -- remember last year's kerfuffle over multiple mistakes in Walter Cronkite's obit, which presumably had been prepared years earlier. Readers of the corrections column have likely noted errors in obituaries appearing on a regular basis.

But the lax attitude of the NYT obituaries page towards promptness is a more subtle, but more fundamental problem -- one that suggests that the obit desk doesn't exactly view itself as a deadline operation.

As regular readers know, the newspaper of record often behaves as though something isn't news until it has been reported on in its pages. And in no case this week did the NYT cite the fact that these deaths were first reported elsewhere.

The NYTPicker recently noted that the NYT has recently published several stories about the Toyota scandal -- repeating anecdotes and facts first published in the Los Angeles Times -- without any credit to the paper for its scoops.

And, of course, the resignation of reporter Zachery Kouwe appears to have had at least something to do with a failure to credit other publications for getting to a story first.

It's an attitude of superiority that suggests a belief that it hasn't happened until the NYT prints it.

But with death, sadly, that just ain't the case.

Here's a list of the rest of this week's we-just-got-around-to-it obits:

Ralph McInerny, Notre Dame professor and prolific author
date of death: January 29
date of NYT obit: February 17
death first reported: Los Angeles Times, February 7

Howard Lotsof, leader of ibogaine movement
date of death: January 31
date of NYT obit: February 18
death first reported: Staten Island Advance, February 5

Rex Nettleford, Jamaican scholar at University of West Indies
date of death: February 2
date of NYT obit: February 17
death first reported: Los Angeles Times, February 5

Donald E. Welsh, publishing executive
date of death: February 6
date of NYT obit: February 19
death first reported: NYT paid death notices, February 14

Gareth Wigan, prominent movie-studio executive
date of death: February 13
date of NYT obit: February 19
death first reported: Nikki Finke's Deadline blog, February 13

Carl Kaysen, negotiator of nuclear test-ban treaty
date of death: February 8
date of NYT obit: February 20
death first reported: Boston Globe, February 9

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Has The NYT Remained Silent About Zachery Kouwe? The Newspaper Of Record Owes Its Readers The Full Results Of Its Investigation.

"As you know, we devote considerable effort to correcting errors and disclosing ethical lapses."
--Bill Keller, NYT executive editor, February 18, 2010


Remember that supposed "investigation" into the plagiarism of now-resigned reporter Zachery Kouwe?

"The investigation is ongoing," NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty told us at 9:51 a.m. on Monday, only 31 hours before Kouwe quit his job.

Well, it was nowhere near finished by Tuesday afternoon, when Kouwe resigned. But its results appear likely to be kept private by the NYT -- which, despite Keller's above statement to Marketwatch this morning, seems hell-bent on keeping what it knows about Kouwe's transgressions a secret from its readers.

Keller, and the NYT, have not answered any specific questions about Kouwe's plagiarism to date, beyond what appeared in its Monday Editors' Note. In a particularly bizarre effort to keep a lid on information, the NYT even went so far as to decline comment to one of its own reporters doing a story on Kouwe's resignation.

Yet only a few hours before Kouwe quit, The NYTPicker has learned, McNulty herself was gathering information for the investigation from a journalist who alleged that Kouwe -- along with NYT Dealbook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin -- had ignored the reporter's requests for credit on a scoop published by Kouwe on Dealbook.

The journalist had approached McNulty on Tuesday morning for help, after earlier efforts to reach Sorkin were unsuccessful -- and after Kouwe himself had denied any wrongdoing.

McNulty interviewed the reporter for 15 minutes on Tuesday morning, pressing for names of other NYT editors who had been approached about the allegations against Kouwe.

The NYT's chief spokeswoman asked for copies of email correspondence between the reporter and Kouwe, which she later told the reporter she had "passed along to the editors."

We have no problem with McNulty's reportorial aggressiveness on behalf of the NYT investigation. In fact, we're impressed with her determination to gather relevant information on Kouwe for her bosses.

What troubles us is that nothing has come of her efforts -- and that the NYT has apparently chosen to leave mutliple instances of Kouwe's plagiarism online, without acknowledgement, in the NYT archives.

This seemingly lax approach to Kouwe's repeated acts of plagiarism contrasts sharply with the highly public and aggressive way in which the NYT addressed ethics allegations against reporter Jayson Blair in the spring of 2004.

After Blair resigned from the NYT in disgrace over charges of plagiarism and fabrication -- before any serious investigation into his work had begun -- NYT brass ordered up a detailed study of Blair's work for the NYT. The team of seven star reporters, including Pulitzer winners David Barstow and Dan Barry, combed through every word Blair had written, for evidence of other misdeeds.

The result was a stunning 7,102-word, page-one unraveling of every deception in Blair's record. It represented a high-water mark of transparency for the NYT -- one that, ironically, contributed to the eventual dismissal of the editors who assigned it, Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd.

A similarly candid approach doesn't seem to be in the works with the Zachery Kouwe story. The NYT's full public comment on the Kouwe case, issued by McNulty, is that "we don't discuss personnel issues." Even the NYT's sketchy story on Kouwe's resignation attributed the news to "two people briefed on the matter," who "spoke on the condition of anonymity."

No information has been given to NYT readers about the nature or extent of Kouwe's plagiarism, above and beyond the 248-word Editors' Note that appeared in Monday's paper.

That note cited only one specific instance of plagiarism, from the WSJ, although it mentioned "a number of business articles in The Times over the past year" and in "posts on the DealBook blog" in which Kouwe "appears to have" plagiarized other stories.

But to date, the NYT has appended its Editors' Note about Kouwe to only one story in the NYT archive -- the February 6 story with passages apparently lifted from a WSJ piece the previous day.

In other words, the NYT appears to be allowing numerous instances of plagiarized work to remain in the NYT record, without any notation of the material's original source -- justifying its silence on the ground that Kouwe's ethical violations are a "personnel matter."

Keller has made brief public comments on the Kouwe matter -- but none yet to his own newspaper, or to his newspaper's readers.

On Tuesday, Keller sent a brief email to John Koblin, the media reporter of the New York Observer, a weekly paper with a circulation of under 50,000 -- in other words, unread by the vast majority of NYT subscribers and readers.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for unethical journalism,” Keller told Koblin, without mentioning Kouwe by name. “Plagiarism is unethical journalism.”

But until the NYT comes clean about the full extent of Kouwe's plagiarism and misdeeds -- and publicly acknowledges every plagiarized word and scoop that appeared under his byline in the NYT -- then it is tacitly tolerating the ethical violations.

To regain the respect and trust of its readership, the NYT needs to resume and complete its investigation into Kouwe, and then properly credit all plagiarized work to the rightful owners.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Hate Defending The NYT This Early In The Morning. But Today's David Paterson Story Deserves Praise, Not Attack.

The strategy worked.

Someone who wanted to diminish the impact of today's David Paterson story in the NYT by Danny Hakim and William Rashbaum -- maybe someone in Paterson's office, or perhaps someone jealous of Hakim's Pulitzer Prize -- started rumors a few weeks ago that the NYT was working on a Paterson sex blockbuster. The rumormonger knew the story would never live up to the hype. The final product would be deemed dull.

And that's how it turned out. Gawker has declared today's Paterson story "boring," and dozens of commenters have already weighed in on the NYT website with their verdict: dull, not worth the effort, and a disappointment. Specifically, readers have attacked the piece for its dependence on anonymous sources, and its thin premise.

We disagree.

The revelation that a top personal aide to the governor of New York State has been repeatedly accused of violence against women strikes us as significant, relevant and worth the space. David Johnson apparently has the sort of access to the governor that makes him a significant player in New York State government, and not by the voters' choice. He's worthy of scrutiny by any standard.

It stands to reason that his accusers -- women who he has allegedly attacked -- would be reluctant to identify themselves, out of fear. Yes, there's some dispute over the allegations, and yes, the Paterson camp has produced women who contradict them. Like most stories that involve abuse against defenseless women by powerful men, it's a nebulous story with no definitive smoking gun -- its weaknesses amplified by fear.

In our society, it still takes tremendous courage for women to accuse men of harassment and abuse with their names attached. Anita Hill comes to mind as a rare and noble example of a woman who dared to subject herself to attack, when she came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The repercussions can be enormous, and we don't fault any woman for opting to remain anonymous in making such charges against a high-profile political figure.

But we applaud the NYT for bringing the story to light, and raising a legitimate question about a man David Paterson has chosen as his top personal aide. And we admire the paper for refusing to cave to public pressure, and hype its story for the sake of satisfying a hungry mob fueled by rumor.

Today's story stands the test of legitimacy and should be taken at face value by readers who demand the best journalism -- not the most sensational -- from the NYT.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NYT's Zachery Kouwe, in 2008 Email, Declared That Readers "Don't Care About" Newspapers Giving Credit To Other Publications.

In December 2008, NYT business reporter Zachery Kouwe was accused by a business-news website of taking its scoop about a financial-services merger, and publishing it in the NYT as his original reporting.

The website complained to Kouwe and his boss, Andrew Ross Sorkin, the editor of theNYT's Dealbook blog, where the scoop appeared. Sorkin never replied, but -- according to a detailed account of the episode that appeared on the Greenwich Time website this afternoon -- Kouwe replied that he didn't feel it was necessary to credit the original source of a news story.

"Readers just don't care," Kouwe told the website's editors in the email reply. "They don't read bylines and they don't care about whether one paper cited a website or another paper in their stories."

But websites did care. On January 12, 2009, the website Dealbreaker got the NYT's Dealbook blog to acknowledge that Kouwe had stolen its scoop -- about a joint venture between Citigroup and Morgan Stanley -- and represented as his own.

An Editor's Note appeared on the NYT's Dealbook blog that day, acknowledging that Kouwe had stolen his scoop from the Dealbreaker website:

DealBreaker first broke the news of the memo on its Web site. A DealBook reporter confirmed the memo’s authenticity with Citigroup’s press office and posted a copy of the memo from Dealbreaker’s Web site. A link to the original DealBreaker post should have been included.

Today's Greenwich Time story strongly implies that the NYT must have been aware of the repeated allegations against Kouwe, who frequently reported stories that first appeared on the Dealbreaker website.

The writer of the Greenwich Time account -- the first to report on these allegations against Kouwe over stolen scoops -- was written by Teri Buhl, who is identified as having freelanced for Dealbreaker and Implode-O-Meter before joining the staff of Hearst CT Newspapers. It was Implode-o-Meter whose emails prompted Kouwe's above admission that he routinely didn't give credit to other sources for their scoops.

"I don't know what to tell you," Kouwe wrote to Implode-O-Meter in response to their objection. "Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs."

More likely to go away first is Kouwe himself, whose fate is reportedly being decided as this is written, at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after an Editor's Note first alleged that Kouwe had plagiarized portions of articles in the WSJ and elsewhere.

The Greenwich Time story reports that Kouwe has told friends "he doesn't think the NYT can afford to keep him on staff and assumes responsibility now for his actions."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Does The NYT Still Employ A Plagiarist? NYT Doesn't Come Clean In Zachery Kouwe Plagiarism Case, Leaving Many Questions Unanswered.

Earlier today, the NYT's Business editor, Larry Ingrassia -- who only 15 months ago bragged to his staff about his decision to hire the "nimble competitor" Zachery Kouwe from the New York Post -- told the department's staff in an internal email, obtained by The NYTPicker, that Kouwe's acts of plagiarism "do not diminish" their accomplishments.

But in keeping with the NYT's frequent closed-mouth policy when pertaining to its own embarrassments, Ingrassia told his reporters nothing about the specifics of the situation involving Kouwe. He didn't even go so far as to tell his staff whether Kouwe was still employed by the paper or not.

The NYT owes its readers more information than the sketchy and inconclusive Editors' Note it published today -- one that didn't even dare to utter the word "plagiarism," even though that was the act it clearly described.

The NYT needs to come clean -- and soon -- about what it knows, and what it doesn't.

It needs to admit to readers, without parsing words, that a reporter committed repeated acts of plagiarism in its pages.

The NYT also should quickly disclose its decision about Kouwe's fate. Have they allowed Kouwe to remain an active, salaried member of the NYT staff in the wake of these allegations? Have they suspended him? Did he quit? What is Kouwe's explanation for his actions?

The paper needs to assure readers that it will make public the results of its investigation, at least disclosing every instance of plagiarism it's able to document -- and soon.

We don't hold the NYT responsible for Kouwe's actions, but we do feel the NYT owes its readers a full, thorough account of its handling of the case. For the NYT to act behind a wall of "no comment" -- and to only speak to its staff, and the public, in generic platitudes about integrity -- does a disservice to the NYT's reputation and position.

Ingrassia's email has continued the NYT's information stonewall, echoing the Editors' Note reference to "improperly inappropriated" passages in Kouwe's work, and its implicit suggestion that his actions aren't those of a plagiarist.

"The cases that we have found so far involve the copying of background and related material from elsewhere," Ingrassia said.

The Editor's Note likewise chose not to use the word "plagiarism" to describe Kouwe's actions.

NYT reporters have been kept in the dark on all specific aspects of the case, and it's not known whether Kouwe has been relieved of his duties -- temporarily or permanently -- or has resigned.

There does remain the possibility that Kouwe continues to be actively employed by the NYT as a reporter. His name still appears, as of tonight, as a reporter on the Dealbook masthead, prominently displayed on the blog.

Kouwe had a NYT byline as recently as Saturday, the day after the paper got a letter from WSJ managing editor Robert Thompson accusing the reporter of plagiarism.

On Sunday night, after spotting the Editor's Note online, we emailed NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty the following questions:

"Will Kouwe continue to work as a reporter while the investigation referred to in the Editor's Note take place? What is his current status with the NYT?"

"Can you be any more specific regarding the number of instances -- articles, blog posts, etc. -- that you have discovered, as of now, with passages lifted without credit from other news organizations?"

McNulty's full response, emailed to us 12 hours later: "We don't comment on personnel issues and the investigation is ongoing."

Readers of the NYT deserve a better answer than that, and soon.

Meanwhile, here is the full text of Ingrassia's internal email, sent under the heading, "A Note From Larry to the BizDay Staff":

You probably have read by now the disappointing news in this morning's paper and on the Web that we've discovered repeated instances in which one of our reporters, Zach Kouwe, appropriated passages appearing in articles from other news organizations. The cases that we have found so far involve the copying of background and related material from elsewhere, and the inclusion of that material in Times stories and postings without appropriate attribution.

This is truly unfortunate, given the excellent and groundbreaking work that Business Day has been doing and the highest standards that all of you hold yourselves to, day in and day out. Our track record of delivering first-rate news and enterprise has been built over years and years, and the regrettable actions of one reporter do not diminish what we have accomplished and will accomplish in the future.


In November 2008, Biz Editor Larry Ingrassia Called Zachery Kouwe "Nimble Competitor" With "Respect Of Rivals With His Scoops."

On November 3, 2008 -- in a newsroom memo welcoming new reporter Zachery Kouwe to the NYT -- business editor Larry Ingrassia crowed about the star they'd just poached from the New York Post.

After noting that Kouwe was the second Post reporter to join the business staff -- "following in the formidable footsteps of Jenny Anderson," Ingrassia said -- he listed some of Kouwe's most notable accomplishments.

"Like Jenny, " Ingrassia said, "Zach established himself as a nimble competitor who managed to win the respect of rivals with his scoops – on John Thain's appointment to Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan’s eyeing Bear Stearns last March and Microsoft’s interest in Yahoo well before its bid."

The memo notes that Kouwe worked at the Post for three years, after a stint as a reporter for the Dow Jones Newswires, where Ingrassia said he "covered leveraged buyouts and the private equity industry." Kouwe also interned at the Denver Post and the Wall Street Journal.

In 2000, the NYT memo said, Kouwe got his undergraduate degree in in economics and history at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and earned a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Colorado in 2004.

Ingrassia told the staff that Kouwe "enjoys playing golf and skiing (though he confesses he doesn’t get to do much of either), watching college basketball (both his dad and his older brother played varsity hoops at Syracuse), listening to jazz and reading American history."

PREVIOUS: BREAKING: In Monday Editor's Note, NYT Reveals Repeated Acts Of Plagiarism By Business Reporter Zachery Kouwe.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

BREAKING: In Monday Editor's Note, NYT Reveals Repeated Acts Of Plagiarism By Business Reporter Zachery Kouwe.

In a stunning Editor's Note in Monday's editions, the NYT has acknowledged that 31-year-old Dealbook reporter Zachery Kouwe -- who joined the paper a little over a year ago from the New York Post -- lifted language from articles published the WSJ, Reuters and elsewhere for "a number of" news stories and blog posts.

The NYT says Kouwe "appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations....without attribution or acknowledgement."

The Editor's Note -- which avoids the word "plagiarism" in describing Kouwe's actions -- goes on to say that a followup investigation turned up "other cases of extensive overlap between passages in Mr. Kouwe’s articles and other news organizations’. " But the note doesn't specify those cases, or give the precise number of other similarities it has found so far.

"The matter remains under investigation by The Times," the Editor's Note concludes, "which will take appropriate action consistent with our standards to protect the integrity of our journalism."

It isn't clear what action, if any, the NYT has yet taken to punish Kouwe for the appropriations the NYT is revealing in this note. Nor is it clear the extent of Kouwe's borrowings, beyond the NYT's vague reference to "a number" of instances.

We have emailed NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty and Kouwe for comment, and will update as soon as we have more information.

Kouwe came to the NYT in the fall of 2008 from his position as mergers and acquisitions reporter at the Post, where he had worked the previous three years. Kouwe is a major contributor to the NYT's highly successful Dealbook blog, run by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Over the last 14 months, Kouwe has covered the Bernard Madoff scheme and various insider trading investigations.

According to Kouwe's biography on the NYT website, he got a B.A. in economics at Hamilton College, followed by a master's degree in journalism at the University of Colorado. He is originally from Tampa, Florida.

The NYT says it was alerted to Kouwe's apparent plagiarism by editors at the WSJ, who observed what it considered "extensive similarities between a Journal article, first published on The Journal’s Web site around 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, and a DealBook post published two hours later, as well as a related article published in The Times on Feb 6."

Here are passages from the one story the NYT Editor's Note cited as an example. The plagiarism is clearly identifiable.

From the WSJ version:

In agreeing to the asset freezes, the family members denied any "liability or culpability," according to "consent orders" filed in federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan and signed by the family members, a lawyer for the trustee and the judge overseeing the case. The family members agreed not to transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of the trustee. They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses. The defendants also will provide the trustee with an accounting of their expenditures, the orders say.

Last year Mr. Madoff's wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee's $45 million lawsuit against her.

From Kouwe's story:

The family members denied any “liability or culpability” in the fraud in agreeing to the asset freeze and said that while they did not agree with the move, they decided not to risk the expense of fighting it.

Under the agreement, the family members cannot transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of Mr. Picard. They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses. The defendants also will provide the trustee with an accounting of their expenditures.

Last year, Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee’s $45 million lawsuit against her.

UPDATE: A NYT spokeswonan has declined to comment on whether Kouwe continues to work at the paper.

"We don't comment on personnel issues," the spokeswoman, Diane McNulty, told The NYTPicker via email, adding that "the investigation is ongoing."

Curiously, Kouwe had a byline in the Saturday, Feberuary 13 NYT, less than 48 hours before the editors' note appeared. Does this mean the NYT's editors learned of Kouwe's apparent plagiarism only in the last two days?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hey, Turns Out The NYT Has A Musical Theme! Sounds Like Aaron Copland On Too Much Coffee.

This morning we listened for the first time to James Barron's NYT Front Page podcast. We'd been noticing it for months and fully intended to check it out, but you know how it is most mornings.

So imagine our surprise to discover, at the top of the podcast that we finally found a few minutes ago, that the NYT has added something distinctive and amazing to its coverage of the news: a musical theme!

We've now listened to it several times, and can state definitively that the NYT favors the string section of the orchestra. Yes, of course it's classical music...duh! Written in a minor key, it's essentially the urgent playing of violins (or were those violas? cellos?) against the backdrop of a tympani drum.

We ain't Anthony Tommasini, but we'll say it's roughly the musical equivalent of a teletype machine clattering in the distance -- a newsroom tune, if you will. It opens the podcast and then settles into a groove of gentle pitter-patter under James Barron's mellow pipes. He's an NPR clone, by the way, pleasant yet serious, and gets props for correctly pronouncing sad new arrivals in the lexicon, like luger.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BREAKING: NYT Finally Addresses David Paterson Sex Scandal Rumors, Says Purported Story "Doesn't Exist."

In a City Room blog post that went up at 6:07 p.m., the NYT finally addressed rumors of a brewing David Paterson sex expose. The unsigned story appears to be saying that the story -- at least as described by other publications -- doesn't exist.

Note the wording of this passage, reporting on Paterson's press conference today after being interviewed by the NYT:

Mr. Paterson then criticized the paper for not formally tackling the issue of the story everyone is talking about that doesn’t exist.

“They don’t seem to be interested in addressing it or doing anything about it — I think it’s appalling,” he said.

The story goes on to quote metropolitan editor Joe Sexton as saying:

“Obviously we are not responsible for what other news organizations are reporting. It’s not coming from The Times.”

Sexton doesn't deny or confirm anything about the story, but Paterson told reporters he was asked nothing about rumors related to a purported sex scandal.

The NYT post goes on to refer, throughout, to the story that "doesn't exist" or that "reporters don't know exist."

Sentences in the post are oddly constructed so as to refer to the story as something "no one knows exists."

For example:

One of his possible Republican rivals, Rick Lazio, has called for the article no one knows exists to be published or for The Times to say it doesn’t exist, all to clear the good name of the governor and end “the psychological warfare” against him.

How exactly can it be a story that no one knows exists? Someone must know. At best it's an awkward construction that seems intended to obfuscate the truth, which the NYT surely knows.

It's all a bit, well, existential. When the NYT says the article "doesn't exist," does it mean that the article doesn't exist at all, or that it just "doesn't exist" in a form consumable by readers? Does an article ever really "exist" at all? Does the NYT mean the story won't ever exist in the future?

Whatever it means, it appears that the NYT is trying to distance itself from incessant rumors that its story will be the sex blockbuster readers have been expecting.

The fact that Paterson was interviewed by a NYT reporter for 90 minutes today makes clear a story about the governor is imminent -- perhaps even hours away. But while its contents still aren't known, the NYT's blog post serves to further dampen expectations of a piece that could force a resignation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ethics Breach: NYT Regularly Repeats Toyota Scoops First Published In The Los Angeles Times And Elsewhere -- Without Credit.

"When we first use facts originally reported by another news organization, we attribute them."

--NYT Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism.


In a series of page-one stories in recent days -- including the lead story in today's paper -- the NYT has tried mightily to cover the massive Toyota recall with its usual aggressive fervor: long takeouts with anecdotes, interviews and angles meant to suggest scoops to its readers.

But what these stories have failed to disclose is that the NYT been consistently late to report on details of the unfolding scandal.

The stories have also failed to credit other publications with reporting that first appeared elsewhere, tacitly misleading readers into thinking its stories represent scoops.

Much of what the NYT has reported in the last week or so has been previously and extensively reported on in other newspapers first -- most notably in the Los Angeles Times, a favorite whipping boy of the NYT when it comes to the suggestion of coverage compromised by budget cuts.

Last January, in one of his regular "Talk To The Newsroom" interviews, NYT executive editor Bill Keller went on an arrogant rant against the Los Angeles Times. Keller's tirade was notable not only for its condescending tone, but also its failure to acknowledge that his own paper was facing wrenching cuts in its own coverage:

To reach its current payroll, The L.A. Times had to eviscerate its reporting and editing staff. Not that many years ago, The L.A. Times had approximately as many journalists as The New York Times. It had a robust network of foreign bureaus, and a truly competitive Washington bureau, and a free-standing book review. It now has approximately half the journalists of its heyday, has subjected its foreign and Washington bureaus to wrenching cuts, folded its book review, and so on. I've read The Los Angeles Times since I was a college student in Southern California, I admire the editors who are trying to weather a period of ruthless ownership, and I still follow its coverage. But it is not what it once was.

But a look at the NYT's Toyota coverage -- in the wake of a superior series of stories in the Los Angeles Times beginning last October -- shows clearly that the NYT is engaged in a systematic effort to catch up with its competition.

In doing so, the NYT is sticking with its long-held, informal policy of not crediting other newspapers for their scoops, despite ethics rules that clearly dictate otherwise.

Consider last Monday's page-one story by Detroit reporter Bill Vlasic, "Toyota's Slow Awakening to a Deadly Problem."

Vlasic launched his story with a chilling lede that told, in detail, the saga of a tragic August 2009 Lexus S350 accident -- one that resulted in the death of an off-duty California traffic cop and his family.

Given the story's placement above the fold on page one -- atop a 2,061-word piece -- a NYT reader would be forgiven for thinking that the lede was a fresh anecdote to introduce a story with original reporting.

But that lede -- in only slightly different form -- had already appeared as the opener to a Los Angeles Times page-one piece nearly four months earlier, on October 18, 2009.

Here are the two ledes. First, the NYT from last week:

The 911 call came at 6:35 p.m. on Aug. 28 from a car that was speeding out of control on Highway 125 near San Diego.

The caller, a male voice, was panic-stricken: “We’re in a Lexus ... we’re going north on 125 and our accelerator is stuck ... we’re in trouble ... there’s no brakes ... we’re approaching the intersection ... hold on ... hold on and pray ... pray ...”

The call ended with the sound of a crash.

The Lexus ES 350 sedan, made by Toyota, had hit a sport utility vehicle, careened through a fence, rolled over and burst into flames. All four people inside were killed: the driver, Mark Saylor, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, and his wife, daughter and brother-in-law.

It was the tragedy that forced Toyota, which had received more than 2,000 complaints of unintended acceleration, to step up its own inquiry, after going through multiple government investigations since 2002.

Now, the Los Angeles Times, from October 2009:

The 2009 Lexus ES 350 shot through suburban San Diego like a runaway missile, weaving at 120 miles an hour through rush hour freeway traffic as flames flashed from under the car.

At the wheel, veteran California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor desperately tried to control the 272-horsepower engine that was roaring at full throttle as his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law were gripped by fear.

"We’re in trouble. . . . There’s no brakes," Saylor's brother-in-law Chris Lastrella told a police dispatcher over a cellphone. Moments later, frantic shrieks filled the car as it slammed into another vehicle and then careened into a dirt embankment, killing all four aboard.

The tragedy Aug. 28 was at least the fifth fatal crash in the U.S. over the last two years involving runaway Toyota and Lexus vehicles made by Toyota Motor Corp. It is also among hundreds of incidents of sudden acceleration involving the company's vehicles that have been reported to Toyota or the federal government, according to an examination of public records by The Times.

Toyota has blamed the incidents -- apart from those caused by driver error -- on its floor mats, asserting that if they are improperly installed they can jam open the accelerator pedal. A month after the Saylor crash, Toyota issued its biggest recall in company history, affecting 3.8 million vehicles in model years as far back as 2004. But auto safety experts believe there may be a bigger problem with Toyota vehicles than simply the floor mats.

The Los Angeles Times's story -- by reporters Ralph Vartabedian and Ken Bensinger -- was the second in a series of scoops last fall that questioned Toyota's attribution of its problems to faulty floor mats, and suggested the possibility of fundamental problems.

Its stories -- including an extensive page-one investigation, "Runaway Toyota cases ignored," that ran on November 8, 2009 -- lay out a sequence of events that the NYT only recently has begun to explore in detail.

Indeed, its page-one story today -- "Toyota's Pattern Is Slow Response On Safety Issues," carrying the bylines of three NYT reporters -- echoes the Los Angeles Times's findings in a page-one story from December 23, 2009, headlined "Toyota found to keep tight lid on potential safety problems."

Here's what the Los Angeles Times reported that day:

Even as its sales have soared, the company has delayed recalls, kept a tight lid on disclosure of potential problems and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects.

And here's what the NYT reported today:

Toyota's recalls and disclosures in recent months are part of a lengthy pattern in which the automaker has often reacted slowly to safety concerns, in some instances making design changes without telling customers about problems with vehicles already on the road....Toyota initially faulted drivers....
The NYT story, before the jump, notes that Toyota knew for years about problems with the steering mechanism on the Hilux Surf -- sold in the U.S. under the 4Runner name.

The NYT reported:

And in early 1996, Toyota engineers discovered that a crucial steering mechanism could fracture on the Hilux Surf, which was sold as the 4Runner in the United States. Toyota started installing a stronger version on new models. Yet it took Toyota eight more years to start recalling Hilux Surfs and 4Runners built before the 1996 design change, after an accident involving an out-of-control Hilux Surf prompted a police investigation. Toyota received a rebuke from the Japanese government and was ordered to overhaul its recall system.
Here's how the Los Angeles Times reported the same set of facts in December, making the same point as today's NYT story about Toyota's slow response:

A decade later, Toyota recalled about 330,000 vehicles in Japan after a 2004 crash there -- caused by a broken steering linkage -- seriously injured five people. The vehicle in the accident, a Hilux Surf, was sold in the U.S. as the 4Runner. Other truck models sold here, including the Toyota 4x4 and T100 pickups, also used the same linkage, a steering relay rod. Despite that, the company told NHTSA in an October 2004 letter that it would not conduct a U.S. recall because it had not received information here indicating a problem with the part. Documents entered in four lawsuits filed in Los Angeles this year, however, show that Toyota had received numerous consumer complaints dating from 2000 and had replaced dozens of the parts under warranty. The documents also show that Japanese police, in an investigation of the defect, said that Toyota employees had known about the problem since 1992 and should have initiated a recall immediately.

It isn't just the Los Angeles Times that has provided fodder for NYT reporters looking for ledes to spice up page-one "scoops."

Bill Vlasic's Friday page-one story, "Lawsuit Over a Crash Adds to Toyota’s Difficulties," led with yet another anecdote that looked original -- the story of the death of Flint resident Guadalupe Alberto, after the sudden-acceleration crash of her 2005 Toyota Camary into a tree.

But that lawsuit had already been reported repeatedly in the previous week, in publications ranging from Business Week to to the Flint Journal to the Detroit Free Press.

Here's the NYT's Vlasic version:

The trip was one that Guadalupe Alberto had made many times before, just a few miles through her neighborhood to the small grocery store her family had owned for years.

It was a Saturday afternoon, April 19, 2008, and Mrs. Alberto, a 77-year-old former autoworker, was driving her 2005 Toyota Camry. Within blocks of her home, witnesses told police, the car accelerated out of control, jumped a curb and flew through the air before crashing into a tree.

Mrs. Alberto was killed instantly, leaving her family stunned at how such an accident could happen to someone who was in good health, never had a speeding ticket and so hated driving fast that she avoided taking the freeway.

Her car was not among the millions of Camry models and other Toyotas recently recalled for sticky accelerator pedals. And it also did not have floor mats at the time, which were part of a separate recall.

Instead, the crash is now being looked at as a possible example of problems with the electronic system that controls the throttle and engine speed in Toyotas.

Here's the same story, written by Eric Fish as his lede in the Flint Journal, published on January 31, nearly a week earlier:

Guadalupe Alberto’s 2005 Toyota Camry careened down West Copeman Boulevard in Flint at 80 mph, weaving in and out of traffic before hitting a tree, sending her car airborne.

Her car eventually smashed into another tree, hitting it 8 feet off the ground.

The 77-year-old Flint woman — a business owner, wife, mother of four and grandmother of 10 — was killed instantly.

Alberto was known as a careful, conscientious driver, so her family looked to the mangled black Camry for answers.

Toyota last week recalled a record 2.3 million vehicles for defective gas pedals that may be responsible for sudden acceleration causing 19 deaths. Her family believes Alberto is also a victim.

“It’s very painful to think of her death this way,” said Lilia Alberto, Guadalupe’s daughter. “I kind of knew there had to be something wrong. My mother was not a fast driver; she was never a fast driver. She was always very, very careful.”

In the last four months, the NYT has not once mentioned the Los Angeles Times's investigation into the Toyota crisis -- or, for that matter, the work of any other publication. But there's little of news value that has made it into the NYT before appearing elsewhere first.

During that same period, the NYT's coverage of the Toyota scandal has been sporadic and thin, presumably prompting the recent spate of catch-up stories by its automotive team.

The issue isn't so much an ethical matter as a failure of enterprise. The Los Angeles Times stories first focused the American public's attention on the Toyota problems, and has kept it there with its aggressive reporting.

We look forward to the possibility that NYT reporters will now begin to break exclusive stories on this significant and ongoing story, one of the most massive recalls in corporate history. But in the meantime, we look forward to seeing the NYT -- at Bill Keller's instruction -- give credit where it's deserved: to the Los Angeles Times, the paper that led the way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Conflict Of Interest? Son Of NYT's Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, Is Inducted Into Israeli Army, Prompting Questions.

The son of NYT Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner -- long a lightning rod for criticism of the NYT's supposed biased reporting in the ongoing Mideast conflict -- has just joined the Israeli Army.

Does the move represent a violation of the NYT's conflict of interest policy?

As the news of Bronner's son trickled out of the Mideast in recent days, pro-Palestinian watchdog blogs have argued that the move does break the rules -- and that the NYT needs to shift Bronner off the Mideast beat in the wake of his son's military service.

The NYT disagrees. In a statement to "The Electronic Intifada," a pro-Palestinian website that monitors media coverage of the conflict, NYT's foreign editor Susan Chira defended Bronner against the suggestion of a conflict.

"Mr. Bronner's son is a young adult who makes his own decisions," Chira told the website, responding on Bronner's behalf. "At The Times, we have found Mr. Bronner's coverage to be scrupulously fair and we are confident that will continue to be the case."

But Electronic Intifada and others have suggested that the NYT's rules clearly define the situation as a conflict of interest.

Here's how the NYT ethics policy addresses the issue, with the relevant parts highlighted. It doesn't strike us a clear-cut at all:

In a day when most families balance two careers, the legitimate activities of household members and other relatives can sometimes create journalistic conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. These can arise in civic or political life, professional work and financial activity. A spouse's or companion's campaign for public office would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a political reporter or television producer involved in election coverage. A brother or a daughter in a high-profile job on Wall Street might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.

Our company has no wish to intrude upon family members who are not its employees.
Nothing in this document prohibits a spouse, companion or other relative of a staff member from taking part in any political, financial, commercial, religious or civic activity....

Staff members must be sensitive that direct political activity by their spouses, family or household members, such as running for office or managing a campaign – even while proper – may well create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. Even limited participation, like giving money or ringing doorbells, may stir suspicions of political bias if it becomes conspicuous. Staff members and their families should be wary of ambiguity. A bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as the journalist's, no manner who in the household actually placed it. When a spouse or companion makes a campaign contribution, it is wise to avoid writing the check on a joint account.

What prompts the outrage by Mideast partisans isn't so much the decision of Bronner's son, but rather the ongoing coverage by Bronner of the conflict -- seen by pro-Palestinian media watchers as pro-Israel.

Ironically, though, Bronner has been upbraided frequently by Mideast observers for being pro-Hamas -- including a memorable, year-old Daily Beast essay, "Why Does The New York Times Love Hamas?" that suggested the NYT wasn't willing to label Israel attacks on Palestinians as terrorist acts.

The Electronic Intifada story notes, instead, a February 2009 piece on the Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting website by Peter Hart. Hart's piece attacked the NYT's "all-too-familiar tendency to 'balance'" stories of Israel's aggressive military tactics "with criticisms of Palestinians."

For what it's worth, The NYTPicker noted last January that Bronner had published a scathing attack on the Israeli government in the Jerusalem Post, charging the military with blocking media access to its movements.

Electronic Intifada says it has raised the issue with NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt.

We're inclined to agree with Chira's assessment of Bronner's reporting, and think he should be allowed to keep covering the Mideast conflict. He's a distinguished reporter with years of foreign experience for the Boston Globe and the NYT, and unlikely to allow his son's allegiance to Israel to color his views.

: In Sunday's NYT, Hoyt recommends "a plum assignment for [Bronner] someplace else for the duration of his son's service in the I.D.F."

In the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand voice that has come to typify the Hoyt tenure as Public Editor, he declares that it "doesn’t seem fair to hold a father accountable for the decision of an adult son."

Then Hoyt offers this contradictory view:

But, stepping back, this is what I see: The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.

As usual, Hoyt has shown himself to be overly obsessed with appearances, worried more about the NYT's reputation than its coverage. He's wrong about Bronner.

In his reasoned response on Hoyt's blog, executive editor Bill Keller rightly declines to accept Hoyt's absurd advice, representing his decision as "a sign of respect for readers" who can tell the difference between reality and appearances.

Keller goes on:

Every reporter brings to the story a life — a history, relationships, ideas, beliefs. And the first essential discipline of journalism is to set those aside, as a judge or a scientist or a teacher is expected to do, and to follow the facts. Of course, journalism is made by human beings, and our lives seep into our stories — sometimes in the form of bias, but often in valuable ways.

We can't put it any better than that.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

NYT's David Pogue Removes His "Pogue's Favorites" List From Twitter -- Including The One Where A Girl Gushed, "OMG You're Adorable!"

NYT technology columnist David Pogue removed his "favorite" tweets from his popular Twitter feed yesterday -- shortly after a social media analysis website posted a story about how easy it was for Twitter users to read the self-selected "favorites' marked by celebrity twitterers.

Martin Bryant, a British blogger posting on a site called The Next Web (at, noted in the February 3 article, "Favorite Tweets Reveal Self-Obsessed Celebrities," that top twitterers like Paris Hilton, Alyssa Milano and Pogue -- who currently has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter -- tend to mark as "favorites" tweets that concern themselves.

Case in point, this Paris Hilton tweet:

Who needs church when you have @parishilton she’s proof enough that there is a god, who else could make such an angel“.

Similarly, Pogue had apparently marked as "favorites" tweets of twitterers sweet on him. An example offered by Bryant of a Pogue-marked fave:

@Pogue May I gush? OMG, you’re adorable! I thought so at Macworld a million years ago, I think so now!!

But Bryant reported, in an update, that shortly after he posted his story, Pogue removed his "favorites" from his Twitter page -- though they were saved in a "cache" file, as pictured above. "It was current when I wrote and published the post" yesterday, Bryant confirmed to The NYTPicker.

We've asked Pogue for a comment on the sudden change to his Twitter page.

It seems an odd move for a writer so closely associated with Twitter and its manifold charms. Last September, Pogue published a book called "The World According To Twitter" that collected great tweets from the site.

Why so shy all of a sudden, David? Don't make your admirers comb through your Twitter archives for the evidence of your charms. We like it when you wear your vanity on your sleeve. And we think you're adorable, too.

Monday, February 1, 2010

UPDATE: Subject Of Andrew Martin's Sunday Business Profile Pled Guilty To Criminal Charges, Sentenced To Three Years' Probation.

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 have access to information about the case of "USA vs. Eitelberg" -- which pops up as the lead item in a Google search of "Richard Eitelberg" -- and 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 NYT 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.