"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.