Monday, March 1, 2010

Integrity Breach: In Latest Paterson Scoop, NYT Accuses Press Secretary Of Calling Victim To Change Her Story, But Doesn't Give Her Chance To Comment.

"Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond."
--NYT Guidelines On Integrity

In tomorrow's latest page-one David Paterson blockbuster, the NYT reports that the governor told his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to call the alleged victim in a domestic violence dispute and to ask her to change her testimony -- and says Shorenstein placed the call on the governor's behalf.

That's an extraordinary charge, perhaps even representing an illegal attempt to tamper with the testimony of a witness in a court case.

But nowhere in the NYT's story -- at least in the version posted on the paper's website shortly after 10:00 pm tonight -- is the press secretary given the chance to comment on the allegation, attributed anonymously, and vaguely, to "one person who was briefed on the matter."

To not include any mention of an effort to seek comment from Shorenstein -- named in the second paragraph of the story -- reflects a clear violation of the NYT rules of integrity, and of standard journalistic practice.

Of course, a comment (or a reference to Shorenstein declining to comment) could eventually turn up in the story later this evening, or in time for the print edition -- an updating practice the NYT has used previously on the Paterson story, without informing its readers of the changes.

But to have posted such an explosive charge without a comment from Shorenstein -- or the mention of any effort by the NYT's team of reporters to seek one -- reflects a stunning violation of the paper's typically high standards.

Here's the full extent what the story says about Shorenstein:

According to one person who was briefed on the matter, Mr. Paterson instructed his press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, to ask the woman to publicly describe the episode as nonviolent, which would contradict her accounts to the police and in court....

The person briefed on the matter said that at the time of the call, Ms. Shorenstein was not aware of the severity of the alleged assault, and that she did not believe that Mr. Paterson was aware of it either. Ms. Shorenstein failed to reach the woman, who has never spoken publicly about the episode.

The NYT story does say that "Mr. Paterson's office declined to comment Monday" on this latest story. But the NYT Guidelines on Integrity clearly state that "we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages."

In other words, the comment from "Paterson's office" doesn't give Shorenstein -- clearly named as the subject of a serious charge, apart from the story's accusations against Paterson -- an appropriate chance to comment on her own behalf.

A story of this magnitude shouldn't depend on a comment from "Paterson's office" to address a serious charge against a state employee, named on the front page of the NYT.

By contrast, the other woman who figures in tonight's story -- Deneane Brown, another state employee who is identified as a friend of both Paterson and the alleged domestic-violence victim -- is given ample chance to respond directly to the NYT's allegations:

[Brown] has not responded to numerous phone calls and visits to her home. Her husband, in a brief telephone interview on Monday, said he knew nothing about the events and would not comment.

It's unclear to us why the NYT would fail to follow such a basic tenet of journalism. We'll be watching the story carefully to see if -- and/or when -- it corrects this significant slip in standards on a story of momentous significance to its readers.


Anonymous said...

Spitzer turned a blind eye to Madoff, Paterson was lame on the soda tax...the conventional wisdom on their downfall is just showbiz.

Anonymous said...

Just a guess, but perhaps Shorenstein wasn't asked to comment on the record because she was one of the main sources for the article. She may well have provided the information herself on background.

Anonymous said...

You guys are starting to sound a little axe-grindy about the fact that the Times has broken a major story. Your point is valid, but it feels like you're missing the forest for the trees a bit. Right now, their story seems a lot more impressive than your reservations do. And, you know, at least the writers of their piece put their names at the top of it, as long as we're talking about journalistic standards and all.

Anonymous said...

Do you really think this site could be as effective if the authors' names were on it? Then that would be the focus and people would focus on them rather than the news they break. That's why these revealing watchdog blogs are best when the authors are unknown.

And those who criticize that point are just rallying behind the most stale point they can make noise about.

Focus on the news The NYTPicker broke, not The NYTPicker. Otherwise you're missing the point and should continue on to for your news analysis.

Anonymous said...

That is precisely the reason the authors' names SHOULD be on NYTPicker. People SHOULD be focusing on the authors here to see what conflicts they might have. What if the person writing this happened to have been married to Shorenstein at one point? What if she is the writer's sister-in-law? What if the NYTPicker writer and Shorenstein once worked together? Those are little details that a NYTPicker reader might want to know. And these details are certainly ones that NYTPicker would write about if a Times reporter wrote about someone with whom she/he had a personal connection without at least acknowledging it. NYTPicker readers would probably like to know the link these writers might have had to The Times in the past. Did they work there? Was one fired, by chance? Did they work for a Times competitor at once? Do the people writing these items do so out of concern for media standards, or do they have an axe to grind with The Times because of their previous connection to The Times?

Anonymous said...

NYTpicker has written volumes on these Paterson stories in The Times. Too bad they don't use that time, energy and space to go out and do some real reporting of their own about Paterson. That would be a far greater contribution than sitting around picking apart someone else's work. Plus, the NYTPicker stories would be perfect and there would be nothing to criticize.

Anonymous said...

So wrong. The challenge is we have to use our brains to determine the credibility of The NYTPicker without being distracted about if they happened to work with someone. If there appeared a conflict, than you could call them out, but so far it's appeared clean.

Yes, there's more important work to be done, therefore every niche should not be filled if there's something more important? Come on. Nothing wrong with a watchdog to check the original reporting rather than adding to the coverage of said reporting.

Anonymous said...

12:45--You say we have to "use our brains to determine the credibility of the Nytpicker." I think you're confusing using our brains with having a crystal ball. How can you say their criticisms have "appeared clean" when you don't know who they are, why they might be raising this stuff, or whether any of the issues that 10:59 raises are in play? You can't.

The word "watchdog" is very nice, but most good watchdog groups make their identities clear. Transparency matters. I would guess that this site is more like a forum for a couple of pissed-off current or former Times employees who think they could do a better job than the people in charge. That's inherently compromised.

Anonymous said...

So odd when Shorenstein's phone numberS are on ever press release coming out of Pateron's office.

On the anonymity thing, the comment section is a good way to discuss any potential conflicts that may exist and we can hold them accountable in that way.

But I do think that this blog shouldn't delete posts as it has in the past. Big no-no in journalism.

And I wonder if NYTPick has withheld a post or any criticism of the Times.

Anonymous said...

Have you found something wrong on this site that if you knew the ID of the author it would clear up?

When posts are solely pointing out facts, the possible motivation doesn't matter. The NYTPicker is clear about its objectives and is pointing out fact after fact.

If you knew it as someone with an ax to grind, people would focus on ripping the source when the facts are facts. Anonymity avoids the side-circus seen on the first stint of the Gannett blog.

Anonymous said...

5:00--But it's not just a factual blog. It's full of opinions. Hey, we love the new Beliefs columnist because we think he's funny and the other guy wasn't! Hey, Julie Bosman is lazy! No, wait, she's not lazy--we were wrong! Hey, here's a story we really love! No, wait, we're going to delete that post and pretend it never happened!

In short, there have been all kinds of opiniony things on this blog that might seem less valid (or maybe more valid) if you knew who they came from.

Anonymous said...

Here is a fact someone ought to ascertain. Is Shorenstein connected in any way to the Harvard press and politics center of the same name?

Anonymous said...

apparently she's from a big time Democratic supporting family:

Anonymous said...

Actually her family is the one on the Harvard center:

Anonymous said...

My name is J. valJean, sometime I go by 24601, does the nytpicker take unsolicited advice?

Anonymous said...

There is no question that the management of the Shorenstein Ctr has an axe to grind, but that only adds to their reputation as gold-diggers, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Melissa's just doing her job, what does any of this have to do with her? No comment is no comment, is it less sleezy to say, she said no comment, or is it better to get a stringer to go on a date with her?

Anonymous said...

Even better if Johnson chokes the stringer at the afterparty, and the paper bribes NY Guv with the footage for the remainder of term.