Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trespassing, Or Journalism? NYT Reporter Talks 13-Year-Old Kid Into Letting Him Into His Mom's Apartment While She's Out.

Staff members and others on assignment for us must obey the law in the gathering of news. They may not break into buildings, homes, apartments or offices.

--The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism

In pursuing scandal rumors about Gov. David Paterson last February, a NYT reporter apparently entered the apartment of a central figure in its story without permission -- having talked the person's 13-year-old son into letting the reporter in.

This revelation came in the sworn testimony of the governor to Judge Judith Kaye, who issued her report today on her investigation into Paterson's actions -- a report that cleared the governor of any charges of criminal witness tampering in the case.

In the report, Paterson testified that in his first phone conversation on February 7 with Sherr-Una Booker -- the woman involved in a domestic violence incident with former Paterson aide David Johnson -- the two discussed repeated efforts by the NYT to interview her for a story about the governor.

The report says: "Booker testified that that she told the Governor about incidents with a Times reporter and then asked the Governor to get the media 'off [her] back.'"

But it's in Paterson's account of the call that the NYT's stunning reporting strategy is revealed.

"The Governor testified that Booker told him that a Times reporter had visited her apartment while she was out, and had persuaded her 13-year-old son to allow the reporter inside," the Kaye report says. "According to the Governor, at the reporter’s request, Booker’s son called his mother, so that the reporter could speak with her. The reporter asked Booker to provide her side of the story, representing that he had already heard from the Governor. Booker declined to comment and told the reporter to leave her apartment."

The report doesn't identify the name of the reporter, or say what happened next. The page-one story that eventually appeared on February 25 -- "Question of Influence in Abuse Case of Paterson Aide" -- carried the bylines of William K. Rashbaum, Danny Hakim, David Kocieniewski and Serge F. Kovaleski.

Does the permission of a 13-year-old boy give a reporter the right to enter a private home? The NYT's ethics rules don't specifically address the point. But we think it's helpful, in situations like this, for reporters to consider how they would feel if the situation were reversed, and answer these questions:

Would a NYT reporter or editor be unhappy to learn that a reporter was inside their apartment without their permission -- allowed in by an unsuspecting young child, incapable of making a sound judgement? And was it necessary for the reporter to enter the apartment in order to reach Booker by phone?

Assuming Paterson's sworn testimony is true, this marks the second time in recent months that a NYT reporter has entered a private home without proper permission. In reporting a City Room blog post about jazz pianist Hank Jones, Corey Kilgannon entered his apartment the day after his death, with only the permission of his roommate/landlord, and without getting permission from a family member. That ignited a firestorm of criticism of Kilgannon's tactics from Jones's family and friends.

It's time for the NYT to expand its rules about the invasion of privacy, so that none of us has to fear the possibility of coming home to unexpectedly find a NYT reporter in our living room.


Anonymous said...

I have a nyt reporter in my living room every day: ME! And I say that the reporter was within the letter of the law and within the set of obligations s/he had to the pursuit of fulfilling journalism's constitutionally protected mandate: of keeping those in power accountable.

Anonymous said...

In this case, the clients' rights override the journalist's constitutional invocation. If the will to hold the journalist accountable for his or her criminal act and malicious intent exists, then they stand accused of attempted abduction of a minor and trespassing, private property invasion, and possible identity theft, among other fragrant charges.
Like they say out west, give a tree hugger a rocking chair and see how the wood cares.

lesdmd said...

If the anonymous NY Times reporter is for real, we have come to the essence of what is wrong at the paper. When a journalist believes that getting the story permits manipulation of a minor, then the ethics of the profession have suffered mightily. It is nearly as astounding that the writer sees no hypocrisy in his/her claim to want to keep those in power accountable.

Anonymous said...

`fulfilling journalism's constitutionally protected mandate: of keeping those in power accountable.

For sure. The ends justify any means. That´s what any fine newspaper stands for.

Anonymous said...

Psychopathy isn't a carte blanche for breaking the law. Neither is 'just doing my job'.

How an act, or the means to an end is justified by the actor retrospectively is relevant in determining the degree of remorse. In this case the end was a vicious attack on the competence of the governor, and the means, went unquestioned until now, because the kid didn't call the police. However, if, once on property, the kid has shot the journalist, it would be self-defense.

Anonymous said...

A police report on the predatory trespassing and the stalking and harrassment of the mother, should be filed in case a restraining order against NYTimes personnel becomes necessary.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first comment, it appears the prevailing culture at the NYT is that anything goes as long as it is in pursuit of justice, as they define it of course. For me, the case is fairly simple: persuading a 13 year old to allow entry to the private residence of a person the NYT is "investigating" simply does not pass the smell test. In fact, it reeks.

Anonymous said...

Today's NYT account leaves out any mention of this. The paper's lack of transparency under Keller continues to astonish.

Anonymous said...

The retired judge's report indicates that while errors of judgement were made, there was no evidence of criminal acts.

This summary could be applied equally to the respective actions of Governor Paterson and the New York Times. Paterson has already paid a heavy price for his errors of judgement. It is only appropriate that the NYT now at least do a mea culpa, if not a few Hail Mary's.

Anonymous said...

Shades of the Patricia Bowman debacle, as Max Frankel and Soma Golden will remember all too well.

Alex said...

First Anonymous, I call bullshit loudly on your response. ANY, repeat, ANY set of ethics worthy of the name carries with it the understanding that you do not ask for permission from those who don't have the capacity to grant it.

Years ago, the main actor in the 'Allo, 'Allo series received a severe head injury, and while recovering, and not competent, his room was entered by a reporter who asked for his "permission" to photograph his injuries. Clearly, that was unethical behavior.

To even use the argument you just presented is simply disgusting and just as unethical. A 13-year-old is not competent to make the decision of whom to let into an apartment. Period.

The Times reporter pulled a stunt and it was unethical. Don't wave "journalism's mandate" at me; I've worked in the industry for almost 20 years. I know when someone's pissing down my neck and trying to convince me that it's rain.

Anonymous said...

Oh, so we just believe whatever bullshit Paterson says to make his critics look bad?

Anonymous said...

I know facts have an annoying way of interrupting your rants, but if you had done the smallest amount of research on this, oh, you know, asking the reporter or editors involved may have learned that David Paterson's story about this encounter is riddled with self-serving falsehoods. The person who answered the door wasn't 13, he was 19. And the reporter didn't "trick" his way into the apartment - the 19 year old said his mother wasn't home, then volunteered to call her on her cell phone because he thought she might be interested in being interviewed. It's bad enough you hide behind the cowardly veil of anonymity, but if you ever wish to develop the credibility to critique a legitimate news organization, you might try to adhere to some standards of accuracy, and fairness, yourself.