In an interview Tuesday afternoon with the Business Insider website, Princeton professor and NYT health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt denied that he had violated NYT ethics rules with his $5 million stock holdings in health-care companies.
"I guess I have to take the rap for this, but I don't see it as an ethical lapse," Reinhardt told reporter Lauren Hatch. "It never occurred to me. My board memberships are public knowledge...I invite you to look at the Wall Street Journal [academic columnists] and see their list of boards."
On Sunday, The NYTPicker reported in detail on Reinhardt's substantial stock portfolio and his $500,000-plus annual income from service on a multitude of corporate boards in the health-care field -- all in direct violation of the NYT's strict ethics rules. Those rules prohibit NYT staffers and freelancers from earning any income in fields directly related to their area of coverage.
"I have talked to the New York Times," Reinhardt said, "and soon my board memberships will be added to the bio so everyone can see it."
Reinhardt sounded defiant in defense of his conflicts, arguing that he had never used his NYT position to promote his financial interests.
"Try to find a post where I am shilling for a company or for an industry," Reinhardt told Hatch. "I don't do that."
But NYT rules exist not just to protect against shilling; they're also designed to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest. In prohibiting stock ownership -- even by other members of a contributor's immediate family -- the NYT policy states that it doesn't allow "financial holdings that might reasonably raise doubts about the staff member's impartiality."
Reinhardt reserved his toughest language for The NYTPicker, attacking this site for, among other things, failing to contact him for comment in advance of our Sunday story.
"These people are anonymous," Reinhardt said. "Are they even journalists? What if it is just someone who disagrees with my political beliefs. I sign my name at the bottom of everything I write, they should have enough honor to sign the bottom of their stuff. You don't know if they have an agenda. They didn't ask me. They didn't contact me -- they contacted the New York Times. In the middle of Easter."
But in fact, The NYTPicker emailed Reinhardt for comment at 1:49 pm Saturday -- nearly 24 hours before the post appeared -- to the email address listed on his Princeton webpage. That email is reprinted below.
In the end, Reinhardt seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the story to the interviewer.
"When all is said and done, they pointed it out and that's good," Reinhardt told the Business Insider reporter. "I had no intent to be unethical or deceitful."
In a statement on Tuesday, the NYT said it was "reviewing how to more fully describe" Reinhardt's business interests for readers.
Thus far, it hasn't mentioned them at all.