50. "Staff members may not offer endorsements or testimonials for books, films, television programs or any other programs, products or ventures."
--NYT Company Policy On Ethics In Journalism.
On Wednesday's edition of "TimesCast," Brian Stelter -- who has written about Apple many times in his capacity as a TV and digital media reporter for the NYT -- made a rather startling statement in the midst of being interviewed about the current controversy over the new iPhone 4.
"And yet as much as I think that Apple can suffer from this," Stelter declared, "I still went ahead and ordered an iPhone 4 last week and I’m still eagerly awaiting it to arrive."
And as for the dropped-call issues that have caused a media firestorm and class-action suits, Stelter stated flatly that those matters don't concern him enough to reconsider his decision.
"I can’t imagine returning it because these phones are so…these phones are such a part of our lives," Stelter told NYT tech blogger Nick Bilton. "These are, really, more and more, they feel like extensions of our hands."
We don't have a problem with Stelter buying an iPhone 4, of course. That's a private decision, and a matter of personal preference. And if Stelter were a columnist or critic, we wouldn't object to him publicly talking about his tastes in phones or computers, the way David Pogue or David Carr do.
But as a NYT reporter, for Stelter to publicly state a preference for the iPhone on a NYT broadcast -- as opposed to, say, an Android or BlackBerry -- represents a clear endorsement of one product over another, in clear violation of the NYT prohibition on endorsements.
Beyond that, Stelter's announcement that he "can't imagine returning" the iPhone is taking sides in a controversy which -- as he well knows -- is still being hotly debated in the smart phone industry and among customers. The NYT has reported frequently on the complaints, class-action suits and other issues surrounding the iPhone 4's problems with dropped phone calls.
In fact, Stelter himself addressed those issues as a preface to his iPhone 4 endorsement.
"It's a pivotal moment for Apple because they haven't had a glitch of this magnitude before," Stelter said. "And they haven't had to respond to it over the course of weeks. Consumer Reports coming out this week and saying, 'We don't recommend this phone.' Really it came down with a lot of weight. And it reveals that this is only going to to worsen for Apple."
But those issues didn't dissuade Stelter from publicly discussing his purchase on the NYT website, in direct violation of rules that exist to keep reporters from making public statements about their private preferences.
Contacted by The NYTPicker, Stelter declined to comment.
UPDATE: David Folkenflik, a media correspondent for NPR who we greatly admire, just re-tweeted this story with this question attached: "What if he said he loved Springsteen?" Okay, we'll bite.
To love Springsteen is to express a musical taste, not a product preference. Yes, we'll grant that Springsteen makes money when people buy his music. But Springsteen's primary objective in writing music isn't to make money -- whereas Apple, a publicly-traded company, exists to make money for its shareholders.
You can feel free to disagree with us, Dave, but we don't think it's fair to consider Springsteen's music a "product." And when we buy a Springsteen album or download a Springsteen song -- or when we tell our friends how much we dig The Boss -- it doesn't preclude us from buying the latest hit from Beyonce or Taylor Swift, moments later.
But we don't have two cell phones in our pocket, and we doubt you do, either. By announcing to the world that he has chosen the iPhone over the Android or the BlackBerry, Stelter has endorsed a product in a competitive industry he himself covers -- which is exactly what those pesky NYT ethics rules were written to prevent.