Reinhardt, a Princeton economics professor, had been writing weekly for the NYT's Economix blog for the last 18 months, with no disclosure of his numerous apparent conflicts to readers, or to his editors at the NYT -- in direct violation of his signed contract with the NYT, and the paper's ethics policies.
Reinhardt's income and holdings violate the NYT's ethics policy, which states clearly:
"Our contracts with freelance contributors require them to avoid conflicts of interest, real or apparent."
In other words, the issue with Reinhardt's income and holdings isn't whether, as he put it in a recent interview, he's "shilling" for health-care companies.
The issue is that by earning income from an industry he writes about, he creates the appearance of conflict to readers -- who aren't necessarily informed enough to parse Reinhardt's opinions for those that might be influenced by his vast financial ties to the health-care industry.
In any case, that policy -- and all NYT contracts with outside contributors -- also demands full disclosure of any possible conflicts to the NYT.
On March 15, NYT standards editor Philip B. Corbett sent an email to all NYT freelance contributors -- presumably including Reinhardt -- that stated clearly the paper's policy, and the need for disclosure:
As you know, The Times takes very seriously the issue of conflicts of interest and other problems that might undermine the credibility of our journalism.
Your freelance contract obliges you to comply with the applicable provisions of The Times’s policy on Ethical Journalism (http://www.nytco.com/pdf/NYT_
To date, the NYT has provided readers with no explanation of how it has reconciled Reinhardt's conflicts with its strict policy. Nor has it addressed the fact that Reinhardt apparently failed to adhere to the terms of the contract he signed.
In January -- after it was revealed that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber didn't disclose a government health-care contract when writing about health-care issues for the op-ed page -- the NYT published an Editors' Note, informing readers that "Professor Gruber signed a contract that obligated him to tell editors of such a relationship."
The note went on: "Had editors been aware of Professor Gruber’s government ties, the Op-Ed page would have insisted on disclosure or not published his article."
On Wednesday, the NYT added a few sentences of disclosure to Reinhardt's online biography, mentioning his corporate board positions. Today's column by Reinhardt offers this one-sentence italicized introduction:
Uwe E. Reinhardt is an economics professor at Princeton and a trustee or director of various health care companies and funds.
The NYT's failure to address the many questions raised by Reinhardt's industry ties runs directly counter to the paper's general commitment to ethics, and to its efforts at transparency.
In recent months, several outside contributors have been dismissed by the NYT due to apparent conflicts of interest, including "Critical Shopper" columnist Mike Albo, Sunday business columnist Mary Tripsas, and freelance sports reporter Joshua Robinson.
Reinhardt's apparent conflicts of interest exceed any of those, by a substantial margin. Yet the NYT seems determined to let Reinhardt continue in his weekly blogging role, without any explanation of how his flagrant violation of the paper's rules for the last 18 months merits no Editors' Note to readers, or public comment.