Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NYT Issues Statement Defending Its Indefensible Health Care Blogger With A $5-Million Health Care Stock Portfolio.

The NYT today came to the defense of its health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt, the Princeton economics professor who sits on numerous corporate boards, holds more than $5 million in health-care stocks, and earns a $500,000-plus paycheck from the industry he covers.

On Sunday, The NYTPicker reported extensively on Reinhardt's health-care industry holdings, which directly violate the NYT's ethics rules regarding outside work and income. The NYT's online bio for Reinhardt makes no disclosure of his industry positions or his substantial corporate income.

In a statement issued today, the NYT defended Reinhardt, who writes regularly for the NYT's Economix blog. Here is the statement, in full:

Professor Reinhardt is a leading expert on the economics of health care, and has provided valuable and independent insights in his blog posts. He has mentioned his service on corporate boards in the blog, but we are reviewing how to more fully describe his activities for readers of Economix.

The statement didn't address the fact that NYT ethics rules expressly forbid any NYT staffer or freelancer from owning stock or having any financial interest "in a company, enterprise or industry that figures or is likely to figure in coverage that he or she provides, edits, packages or supervises regularly."

Beyond that, the statement included the somewhat misleading defense that Reinhardt "has mentioned his service on corporate boards in the blog."

The NYTPicker read all 85 of Reinhardt's blog posts, and found only a single vague mention of his board memberships -- in a post on March 5, 2010, when he wrote this, in the fifth paragraph of a post about health care fraud:

As someone who has served for some time now on the boards of both a for-profit and a not-for-profit hospital system, however, I very much doubt that any hospital board or any hospital executive in the country would even dream of knowingly defrauding the United States government.

Otherwise, nothing. Not a word about any of his outside interests in 85 blog posts stretching back to the fall of 2008 -- posts that frequently mentioned his teaching, his government service, and one that even disclosed a recent colonoscopy.

Does the NYT actually believe that statement qualifies as a form of disclosure, or even warrants mention in a public statement from the NYT on Reinhardt?

It doesn't strike us as the sort of forthrightness demanded by Public Editor Clark Hoyt in a January column about freelancers' conflicts on interest, when he declared: "Readers are entitled to disclosure, so they can decide if there is a conflict that would effect the credibility of the information."

Today's NYT statement doesn't suggest the likelihood that the paper will take any action against Reinhardt. This seems highly hypocritical to us, especially in light of recent dismissals of freelancers like Mike Albo for taking a Jet Blue junket that had nothing to do with his Critical Shopper column for Styles.

The NYT also recently let go a regular freelance sportswriter , Joshua Robinson, amid accusations that he had used his ties to the NYT while proposing travel articles for airline magazines in exchange for free tickets.

Such situations would seem to pale by comparison with Reinhardt, who writes about health care for the NYT while earning millions from the industry he covers.

EARLIER: Ethics Breach: Princeton Prof Who Writes Regularly For NYT On Health Care Holds More Than $5 Million In Health-Care Industry Stock.


wjdecker said...

So what are the implications for staffers and freelancers fired, either in the past or in the future, for violating a policy that is not uniformly enforced?

Anonymous said...

Academic titles and positions mean a lot to the NY Times. Look at all the letters it publishes from poo-bahs across the academic/professional spectrum. Why be surprised when the paper rallies around one of these Ivy League kinsmen? The powers-that-be show their insularity in refusing to acknowledge how the conflict of interest loosens another chunk of credibility with readers.

Anonymous said...

What a bummer.

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Ridding USA of KKKnights anonymously and pseudonymously said...

Ivy League kinsmen?! More so Ivy League Klansmen!
Though it runs counter to the faculty lunch decorum to shed light on the immodesty and vulgarity in 'their' indefensible body of work (herein classified as valuable and independent insight by the NYT parrot), even a slight turn in such a direction has the effect to 1) arouse overprotective instincts in the cheerleaders for their cause, and, 2) activate the intimidation mechanisms of their network (as the recently witnessed threats received by public figures involved in the health care debate).
Of course and naturally, the burden of proof of concerted action rests not on the culprits and on those enabled by them, and so, is a huge time sink.

As per negation to Uwe's own words, let us all 'shut up and put up' no more.