Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Double Standard: NYT Punishes Reuters Journalist With Editors' Note -- After Ignoring Ethics Breach Of Multi-Millionaire Princeton Professor.

The NYT apparently has two sets of ethical standards for its contributors -- one that punishes journalists for their transgressions, and another that that ignores the same violations by Princeton professors.

In today's NYT, an Editors' Note calls attention to an ethics violation by an outside contributor to the NYT -- apologizing to readers after a Reuters columnist wrote about businesses where he owned a financial stake. in pieces that appeared in the NYT.

"The Times prohibits staff reporters and editors from owning stock or having any other financial interest in a company that they cover," the Editors' Note stated. "The Times would not have published the articles if editors had known of the conflict."

But you'll find no Editors' Note in the NYT about the identical ethics breach of multi-millionaire Princeton economics professor Uwe E. Reinhardt -- even though he broke the same rule, repeatedly, for more than a year.

And while the Reuters Breakingviews columnist, Neil Collins, has already resigned his post, Reinhardt continues to write a weekly column for the NYT as though nothing happened.

What's the difference? Well, Reinhardt is a respected member of the same Princeton economics department that spawned its own Nobel Prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman -- as well as Catherine Rampell, a former Krugman assistant who now edits the Economix blog that publishes Reinhardt's health-care column.

Back in April, The NYTPicker first reported in detail on Reinhardt's breach of NYT rules. Our post noted that the professor gets paid more than $500,000 a year to sit numerous health industry boards, holds more than $5 million in health-industry stock -- all while writing weekly columns on the health-care industry for the NYT.

The NYT had made no disclosure of Reinhardt's holdings to its readers -- even though NYT rules directly demand such disclosure.

Those rules specifically ban both staffers and freelancers 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."

The NYT ethics rules go on to specifically reference health-care coverage as an area requiring special vigilance against conflict:

"A book editor, for example, may not invest in a publishing house, a health writer in a pharmaceutical company or a Pentagon reporter in a mutual fund specializing in defense stocks," the rules state. "For this purpose an industry is defined broadly; for example, a reporter responsible for any segment of media coverage may not own any media stock. “Stock” should be read to include futures, options, rights, and speculative debt, as well as “sector” mutual funds (those focused on one industry)."

But instead of apologizing for Reinhardt's ethics breach in an Editors' Note -- as the paper did today in relation to the Reuters columnist -- the NYT defended its own multi-millionaire health-care blogger, making this statement:

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.

But in fact, a NYTPicker examination of Reinhardt's 85 blog posts to date found only one brief mention of his financial interests, in the fifth paragraph of a column on health-care fraud where he wrote:

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.

In the wake of The NYTPicker's disclosures, the blog now inserts a vague one-sentence disclosure statement-- "[Reinhardt] has some financial interests in the health-care field" -- whenever he writes directly on health-care industry matters.

But neither the NYT nor Reinhardt has never acknowledged any violation of the NYT ethics rules.

"I guess I have to take the rap for this, but I don't see it as an ethical lapse," Reinhardt told Business Insider reporter Lauren Hatch last April.. "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."

And the NYT has, to date, never disclosed to its readers that nearly 100 blog posts were written without proper disclosure of its multi-millionaire health care blogger's conflicts of interest -- in clear and blatant violation of its own ethics policies.


Anonymous said...

Your epic mission to sanitize the landscape is bound to fail if all you do is to seek addition of leaven that leavens the lump of anxiety among the accursed and suspicion towards the charlatan.

In all honesty, you pickmen got your own warped ethical laws that hold you back from sharing the love re: what you actually got on this mofo scumbag. Is he kept around cause the dough to reveal his words is not received direct from NYTCo.'s coffers, or what?

Anonymous said...

In regards to what the first anonymous wrote, yes, there does seem to be a sense that if you people were really interested in airing dirty laundry, we'd all be reading this site with out jaws down at ankle level.

Come on. Give us the real dirt. Seriously. For instance, start with how, exactly, Alessandra Stanley kept her job after that colossal screw up that required a "correction" about when the first moon landing was.

Anonymous said...

I previously thought it odd how a freshly-minted Anthropology major at Princeton could become the chief editor of the NYT Economix blog, Now that NYTPicker has revealed she was a former Krugman assistant explains it all. Krugman seems to be running the show over at the NYT ranging from staffing the blogs, running editorial policy, dictating comment policy (no more than three inches in contrast to the NYT official word count limit and, as he says "I encourage others to do the same"). I would bet that Krugman had something to say about letting his Princeton pals Reinhardt and Rampell off the hook for these blatant ethical violations (either Reinhardt told his editor Rampell about his outside interests and they both conspired to hide them, or Reinhardt failed to disclose---either way, one or both should have been let go). Krugman recently let slip that he's not paid for his "Conscience of a Liberal" blog even though his is the most read on the NYT. I guess that explains his clout at the paper--he probably accounts for the entire bottom line. Meanwhile, I guess the Public Editor has far weightier conflict matters to deal with, like whether an article should link to a NYT course offering (his verdict: I'm not sure).