In the wake of The NYTPicker's recent reporting on a NYT health-care blogger's membership on several health-care company boards, the NYT has quietly slipped "board memberships" into the list of activities banned under its ethics policy.
As of 12 days ago, the NYT ethics manual made no mention of board memberships -- although its policies already prohibited the practices of Uwe Reinhardt, a NYT health-care blogger with $5 million in health-care stock holdings and more than $500,000 in annual income from his position as corporate director of various health-care companies.
As of April 4, the policy stated: "No staff member may own stock or have any other 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."
As of today, the policy now states: "No staff member may own stock or have any other financial interest, including a board membership, in a company, enterprise or industry about which she or he regularly furnishes, prepares or supervises coverage."
The emphasis was added by us, to show the change.
Also, as of this afternoon, Reinhardt's NYT biography has been updated -- also with no public announcement -- to include mentions of his various corporate board positions. The biography still doesn't disclose any information about the Princeton professor's financial holdings in the health-care companies where he serves on the board.
On April 4, The NYTPicker reported extensively on Reinhardt's conflicts of interest. While writing regularly for the NYT's Economix blog on health-care matters since September of 2008, he has been earning several millions dollars in income -- in the form of salary and stock -- from several health-care companies with a direct interest in the health care debate.
In an interview with Business Insider last week, Reinhardt said, "I guess I have to take the rap for this, but I don't see it as an ethical lapse." He went on to tell 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."
The NYT also issued a statement to the Business Insider website last week, saying that it was "reviewing how to more fully describe his activities" on the blog. But the paper did not address Reinhardt's violation of NYT ethics rules.
Among the questions left unanswered by the NYT's quiet changes to its rules, and the alteration of the Economix blog bio:
-- Will Prof. Reinhardt be expected to give up his board memberships, and/or his stock holdings, or has he been exempted from the NYT's ethics rules?
-- Will the NYT address these changes -- and Reinhardt's conflicts of interest -- in any form of public statement to readers?
-- When, and why, was the NYT ethics policy changed?
We have emailed a series of questions about the rule change, and about Reinhardt's status, to NYT spokesman Robert Christie, and will update with his reply.