Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is It Okay To Promote Your Wife's Non-Profit Group In The NYT? Sam Roberts Thinks So. We Don't.

In Monday's NYT, longtime metro reporter Sam Roberts delivered a ho-hom account of efforts to restore Jamaica Bay's environment in the wake of a giant, decade-long government dredging project.

The article explains that the cleanup effort was pushed forward largely through the efforts of the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, a nonprofit organization.

The article doesn't mention that the Conservancy's highly-paid president and CEO, Marie Salerno, is Roberts's wife.

While the story doesn't directly focus on the Conservancy, it does quote Emily Lloyd, a former New York environmental protection commissioner, as saying that the bay "lacked a real consistency" until the Conservancy stepped in to help clean up after the government dredging machinery.

Roberts also forgets to mention that Lloyd is on the board of directors of the Conservancy. Whoops!

Another fact that escaped inclusion in the piece: Marian S. Heiskell -- identified only as the Conservancy's chairwoman -- is the sister of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, and a former member of the NYT Company's board of directors. Whoops again!

But we know what you're thinking; hey, what's so bad about an article that focuses on the do-good efforts of a nonprofit, even though it happens to involve the wife of the reporter? Not to mention the aunt of the newspaper's publisher!

Well, if that's your position, Sam Roberts agrees with you.

We asked Roberts yesterday if he felt he'd been in violation of the NYT's strict ethics rules -- which clearly state that "staff members may not furnish, prepare or supervise news content about relatives, spouses or others with whom they have close personal relationships" -- by writing about his wife, who according to 2007 tax records earned $154,350 a year as the Conservancy's president and CEO..

"Only if one argues that making bigger islands will bring more visitors which will bring more attention to the bay and its potential for recreation, environment, history, harbor transportation, tourism, the economy," Roberts said via email, "which are the goals of all of the partners mentioned in the project."

Well, yes. Those are the goals.

But as we all know, New York City plays host to hundreds, maybe even thousands of nonprofiits with wonderful goals, and who would dearly love to have their good deeds splayed across the metro pages of the NYT.

We also know that such publicity plays a crucial role in fundraising for future projects, which in turn means higher salaries for staff, better jobs, etc. It's may be for a good cause, but Salerno makes more money than many NYT reporters -- and than most New Yorkers in general, for that matter.

In other words, we see the ethics rules as designed specifically to avoid situations like this, in which a husband writes articles that in any way promote the livelihood of a spouse -- whether it's a civic function, political role or a private business.

Think of it this way: positive publicity helps a nonprofit's cause, which helps support the continued six-figure incomes of its paid leadership. It's an unfair advantage that results directly from personal access, in this case between husband and wife.

But that hasn't stopped Sam Roberts from repeatedly inserting mentions of the Conservancy in the NYT. Over the last six years, the Conservancy has appeared in five NYT stories -- all under Roberts's byline.

He told The NYTPicker yesterday that a "Metro editor," who he didn't identify, was aware of his personal connection to the Conservancy, and approved him writing about it in advance.

When we asked Roberts if he thought his wife's leadership of the Conservancy was "relevant" to the story, he replied:

"It is relevant to the extent that it would have been derelict not to mention the Conservancy's tangential involvement. The genesis of the story was an interview with the new commandant of the Army Corps. It evolved into what I found to be a fascinating story about the environment and the economy of the port that might not have appeared unless a reporter -- in this case me -- was interested in pursing it."

He also said he wife didn't have anything to do with the preparation of the story. That's good!

We don't want to label this an "ethics breach," even though we do feel it violates both the letter and spirit of the NYT's rules. In the grand scheme of things -- working for a paper that currently allows a health-care blogger to hold millions of dollars in health-care stock while writing about the industry, in direct violation of NYT policies -- it's small potatoes, and for a good cause.

Still, we expect a newspaper like the NYT -- one that holds itself to the highest standards of integrity in journalism -- to make more effort not to look like a small-town paper that promotes its staff's pet causes, and its owner's favorite charities.

The phrase "without fear or favor" -- introduced as part of the NYT's principles in 1896 by then-publisher Adolph Ochs -- implies that no one, including members of the NYT staff, gets special access to the news pages purely by proximity.

Those are the words that inspired the rules. We believe the NYT ought to apply them equally, or not bother with them at all.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

NYT's City Room Blog Duped Again! Local Acting Duo Lands Phony Publicity Stunt On NYT's Hoax-Friendly Website.

We'd like to shed some light on yesterday's phony publicity stunt by Jeff Ragsdale and Megan Brady -- the one that landed them both in an Elisa Mala story yesterday afternoon on the City Room blog that took their kooky yarn at face value.

Late this morning, the City Room blog updated the blog to suggest that it's now aware that it has been fooled. "Some are suggesting this is a hoax," the NYT now says. "We are trying to sort it out, but it may take a while, stay tuned."

While the NYT sorts it out, here's the story! The whole thing is apparently a performance piece, concocted by two actors in love with the limelight.

Earlier this year, the headline-seeking pair of performers first introduced their "jealous lovers" performance piece in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show," also pushing their sad-sack story of jealous lovers -- along the same lines as yesterday's story, which suggested that Ragsdale was publicly begging forgiveness from his girlfriend via a sign in Madison Square Park.

In the CBS News segment, the couple represented themselves as having been dating for two years and engaged for six months -- quite a bit different from the NYT version that they had "dated for about half a year."

"I feel like Othello," Ragsdale told CBS News, quite convincingly, though he looks more like Jerry Seinfeld.

In that interview, as with the NYT story, they stick with their story that Ragsdale suffers from extreme jealousy, and blames it all on an alcoholic father -- again!

In its update, the NYT blog acknowledged that Ragsdale is a standup comedian. But in fact, he and Brady are both actors. (In the original post, the NYT identified Ragsdale as a "computer consultant" and Brady as working in "advertising.")

In August of 2009, Brady took time off from her "advertising" career to appear in a Discovery Channel episode of "Dr. G, America's Most Shocking Cases." Brady played "Patricia," suspected of murdering her husband, "John Powell," a 44-year-old motorcycle-riding plumber.

"The motive? One of the oldest in the book," the deep-voiced narrator intones. "Money."

It's not clear what has motivated Ragsdale and Brady to get themselves into print by presenting themselves as a troubled couple -- but it worked.

Ragsdale has shown a strong predilection for getting himself on camera, presumably to further his acting career. Among the Ragsdale set pieces posted on YouTube, and elsewhere on the web:

--an over-the-top comic performance (and victory!) by Ragsdale as a contestant on the Science Channel's "Mind Games" game show on October 31, 2009.

--a screaming tirade over a NYC parking ticket, posted on YouTube and FunnyOrDie less than two weeks ago.

--a stand-up comedy reel that includes Ragsdale tying a pair of panty hose around his neck.

Ragsdale has even used serious news stories to draw attention to himself. In 2006, he appeared on television news programs -- including this outraged NY1 interview -- advocating the closure of a SoHo bar after a brutal crime against a young female customer by its doorman.

This marks the third time in less than a month that the NYT's City Room blog has apparently fallen for a hoax or publicity stunt.

On April 1, the blog picked up a phony claim by a local personal injury lawyer that he'd been named the White House's official law blogger. The reporter later acknowledged he'd failed to check out the item before publishing it.

That same day, the blog's editor -- Andy Newman -- fell for a hoax about a group claiming to be riding the subway without wearing pants.

According to Public Editor Clark Hoyt, who wrote about the hoaxes, Newman said "he thought the man was reliable," referring to the leader of a street theater group who told him of the phony event.

Mala, the author of yesterday's post, appears to be a freelance contributor to the NYT City Room blog. Her twitter feed identifies her as a contributor to the NYT blog, ESPN The Magazine, Newsweek "and others." A Google search also turns up previous articles in the New York Sun.

On a Columbia University student website in March of 2009, the NYT's Newman identified Mala as "an intern from Queens College" working on The Local, the NYT Brooklyn blog Newman edited before moving over to City Room.

UPDATE: At 3:32 p.m. this afternoon, someone identifying himself as Jeff Ragsdale posted a comment on the City Room blog post. "I am Jeff Ragsdale," he wrote. "This is NOT a hoax. I did this out of love and desperation."

Ragsdale acknowledged his career as an actor and comedian but said "that has nothing to do with this....this was a last-ditch effort to win Megan back. I love her. I need her." (The full comment is reprinted below.)

Has the NYT been able to speak to Ragsdale directly to "sort it out," as promised? Or does this comment represent the end of its investigation?

In the words of the City Room blog: stay tuned.
2ND UPDATE: At 8:19 p.m. on Saturday, the NYT City Room blog posted an acknowledgement that "there is considerable evidence" that it was the victim of a hoax.

The blog reported that "on repeated questioning," Ragsdale and Brady "insisted that they are really a couple who really did have a falling out," and added tht "nothing depicted in the fake."

But the NYT blog went on to say, rather awkwardly:

"Obviously, we are skeptical at this point. We will dig further. Just as obviously, we wish we had done the digging before we published the post."

No problem, guys -- that's what we're here for!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Won't NYT Book Essayist Joe Queenan Read "The Satanic Verses"? You Make The Call!

Last December, favorite NYT Book Review essayist Joe Queenan declared that he would not be reading Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" anytime soon, because of the "graphic vileness" of its cover.

Queenan, who has lately carved out something of a sub-specialty in informing readers of books he doesn't intend to read, returned to Rushdie's classic -- and his aversion to reading it -- in a NYT Book Review essay this past Sunday.

Four months later, Queenan has come up with a brand-new excuse for not finishing Rushdie's book. Now it's the author's preference for the New York Yankees!

"My refusal to read books about the Yankees or their fans also extends to books written by supporters of the team," Queenan complains. "Thus, when I learned that Salman Rushdie had adopted the Yankees, who beat my Phillies in the World Series last year, it eliminated any chance that I would ever read “The Satanic Verses,” no matter how good it is."

Who knows what's next? Queenan may soon side with Muslims who long objected to the 1988 novel's supposed sacrilegious elements, which resulted in a death sentence for Rushdie ordered by the then-Ayatollah of Iran.

Hey, Joe, admit it -- you just don't feel like reading the book!

Thanks to Janice Harayda of Montclair, who tweeted about Queenan's short-term memory loss at @janiceharayda yesterday and tipped us to it via email.

It now seems reasonable to ask Queenan to nail down his thinking and declare, definitely and at long last, the real reason he won't read "The Satanic Verses" -- perhaps in the next installment of Queenan's "what-I-haven't-been-reading-lately" lists for the NYT.

Personally, we didn't read "Satanic Verses" because we didn't like the font. These days we're only reading books in Garamond and Bodoni.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Got My Junk Through The NYT! Buy High-Priced Gifts At NYT Store, And You'll Pay Only A 30 Percent Markup For The Privilege.

Why pay less?

That appears to be the sales motto of the NYT Store, which continues to add to its inventory with all manner of high-priced trinkets and souvenirs.

But in many cases, its products are available elsewhere on the Internet -- and at only a fraction of the NYT's exorbitant prices.

We noticed this odd sales phenomenon -- we're not retailing experts, but we think it's called "markup" -- when we were pondering the purchase of a "Spicy Letter from James Buchanan," written in 1853 by the future 15th president (and our nation's only bachelor-in-chief) to a young woman named Eliza Wattstein.

In the letter, Buchanan writes that he's hoping to experience "the pleasure of a tete a tete with your ladyship." Spicy indeed!

The NYT Store offers this tasty slice of Americana for only $5,200, and describes it as a "rare one-of-a-kind document" and "a real piece of history."

But before buying, we did what any red-blooded American would do: we searched for a bargain. And within a couple of clicks, we found one. The same letter was for sale online through a document dealer named Seth Kaller, for only $2,950! (According to the Christie's website, the letter was sold at auction in 2006 from the Forbes Collection for only $1,800.)

Curious, we began perusing the NYT gift shop for other overpriced items. And quickly, we realized that our favorite newspaper was engaged in the business of marking up a multitude of expensive knick-knacks -- typically as much as 30 percent over other online stores selling the identical things.

A few examples:

You could buy "Steal Your Face Cuff Links" -- because really, who doesn't want sterling silver jewelry that commemorates The Grateful Dead? -- for $135 at the NYT Store.

Or, with a few clicks, you could buy the identical links from for $99.95.

How about a 1901 black-and-white photo called "Keith's Bicycle Track," of four men riding bikes in a cylinder? Surely you're willing to part with $199 for an 11-x-14 image of such hijinks from the NYT Store.

But if that's too much, the identical photo is available from the Museum of the City of New York for $125.

Let's see, what other kooky crap does the NYT have to offer at over-the-top prices?

Well, we're always on the lookout for a framed, autographed Amy Grant album cover, because who isn't?

Turns out we're in luck! !he NYT sells an authenticated, framed, autographed cover of Grant's "House of Love" for $550.

Of course, we could always buy the identical item from the website, that sells authenticated autographs from celebrities at bargain prices -- they've got the same authenticated Grant album cover and frame for $358.80.

But really, we like handing the NYT nearly $200 in extra profit. It's our little way of saying thanks, for all those wonderful Tom Friedman columns!

Feeling romantic and rich? Then spend 20 percent more for a "Romantic Lafayette Pendant," on sale at the NYT Store for $59, even though the catalog mentions that it's created by the New York Historical Society.

Go to the society's online store, and you'll find the same pendant for $47.

We suppose it's only fair that the NYT Store charge what is sometimes referred to by retailers as "list price" for certain items -- say, for example, a NYT book that collects all its front pages in a large bound volume, with accompanying DVD-ROM, which the NYT store sells for $60.

But it's hard to resist buying the same book at Amazon, for $37.80 -- a 37% discount.

Friday, April 16, 2010

NYT's Multi-Millionaire Health-Care Blogger Returns To NYT This Morning -- With A Half-Sentence "Disclosure" Of His Conflicts Of Interest.

NYT health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt -- who earns more than $500,000 a year on several health-care industry boards, and holds more than $5 million in health-care stock -- has returned to the NYT this morning, with a dozen vague words of "disclosure" to readers of his vast conflicts of interest.

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 ( ) and to take care to avoid conflicts or the appearance of a conflict. The provisions pertaining specifically to outside contributors are reproduced below, but you should review the entire document. Readers do not distinguish between freelancers and staff reporters in The Times, so as far as possible we expect outside contributors to adhere to the same standards as Times staff members.

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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

NYT Spokesman Tells NYTPicker: "Disclosing Your Name And Affiliation Is One The Of Basic Principals (Sic) In Journalism." So Is Spelling!

Just a few minutes ago, we got the following email from Robert ("Call Me Bob") Christie, the NYT's new senior vice president for corporate communications, refusing to comment to The NYTPicker regarding our latest story on the NYT's multi-millionaire health-care blogger, Uwe Reinhardt.

"We are not going to comment given your failure to disclose your identity," Christie wrote us. "As you understand, disclosing your name and affiliation is one the of basic principals (sic) in journalism. I hope you understand our position."

Whether he comments for The NYTPicker or not, we think Christie is entitled to a dictionary for his new office. It's unseemly for the nation's best newspaper to misspell words. It's one of the basic principles of journalism!

Christie's email is reprinted below:

NYT Quietly Changes its Ethics Rules, In Wake Of NYTPicker Story On NYT Health-Care Blogger's $5 Million Stock Portfolio.

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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Story That Won't Win A Pulitzer: NYT's Analysis-Free, Reporting-Free Recitation Of This Year's Winners.

In a newspaper that devotes a team of reporters to covering every nuance of the annual Academy Awards, why does the NYT so rarely offer its readers a shred of insight into the behind-the-scenes, decision-making process that leads to the Pulitzer Prize?

Today's "coverage" of the 2009 Pulitzer Prizes by media reporter Richard Perez-Pena follows a familar, self-serving pattern set by the NYT years ago: a straight recitation of the winners, and a self-serving quote from Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli -- but no mention whatsoever of the competition itself, how the decisions were made, or who lost out on journalism's highest honor and why.

It's an embarrassing and ironic display of non-existent reporting on a story that honors reporting, and doesn't measure up to the minimum standards of the journalism profession -- let alone those set by the NYT in its annual prize pursuit.

A few things the NYT might have mentioned this year in its Pulitzer coverage:

--How seriously did the Pulitzer jury consider the candidacy of the National Enquirer, whose coverage of the John Edwards sex scandal attracted significant praise and attention?

--How did its own reporter, David Rohde, not win in International Reporting for a six-part series on being held captive by the Taliban widely seen as a shoo-in?

--How did a first-time novelist named Paul Harding manage to snag the fiction Pulitzer for an obscure book from a small independent publisher, "Tinkers," that the NYT didn't even bother to review?

--What might have been behind the third straight shutout of the Wall Street Journal, which hasn't won a prize since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper?

Perez-Pena doesn't even mention these questions, let alone answer them. He offers readers no insight into the internal workings of the Pulitzer juries or board. Nor does he bother to analyze the trends reflected in the choices -- the continued dominance of the prizes by the NYT and Washington Post, for example, or the tendency of the Pulitzers to honor the same journalists (Gene Weingarten and Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post) again and again.

Yes, the NYT and the Post are America's top papers, but the relative rarity of obscure winners in the prize's top categories year after year seems a notable phenomenon, too -- worth a sentence or two at least. We love Gene Weingarten's work, but is there really so little good feature writing in American journalism that he deserved it twice in the last three years?

But to explore the behind-the-scenes process -- and question even slightly the system behind one of its most coveted marketing tools -- might not best serve the interest of the NYT, which has overwhelmed the competition with 104 prizes in the Pulitzer Prize's 93-year history.

The NYT's blind eye to the real story behind the Pulitzer Prizes every year reflects, it seems to us, the paper's determination to put its prize prospects above its commitment to coverage of the institution that awards the honor. That's not good journalism.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NYT Health-Care Blogger With $5 Million Health-Care Portfolio: "I Guess I Have To Take The Rap For This, But I Don't See It As An Ethical Lapse."

In an interview Tuesday afternoon with the Business Insider website, Princeton professor and NYT health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt denied that he had violated NYT ethics rules with his $5 million stock holdings in health-care companies.

"I guess I have to take the rap for this, but I don't see it as an ethical lapse," Reinhardt told 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."

On Sunday, The NYTPicker reported in detail on Reinhardt's substantial stock portfolio and his $500,000-plus annual income from service on a multitude of corporate boards in the health-care field -- all in direct violation of the NYT's strict ethics rules. Those rules prohibit NYT staffers and freelancers from earning any income in fields directly related to their area of coverage.

"I have talked to the New York Times," Reinhardt said, "and soon my board memberships will be added to the bio so everyone can see it."

Reinhardt sounded defiant in defense of his conflicts, arguing that he had never used his NYT position to promote his financial interests.

"Try to find a post where I am shilling for a company or for an industry," Reinhardt told Hatch. "I don't do that."

But NYT rules exist not just to protect against shilling; they're also designed to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest. In prohibiting stock ownership -- even by other members of a contributor's immediate family -- the NYT policy states that it doesn't allow "financial holdings that might reasonably raise doubts about the staff member's impartiality."

Reinhardt reserved his toughest language for The NYTPicker, attacking this site for, among other things, failing to contact him for comment in advance of our Sunday story.

"These people are anonymous," Reinhardt said. "Are they even journalists? What if it is just someone who disagrees with my political beliefs. I sign my name at the bottom of everything I write, they should have enough honor to sign the bottom of their stuff. You don't know if they have an agenda. They didn't ask me. They didn't contact me -- they contacted the New York Times. In the middle of Easter."

But in fact, The NYTPicker emailed Reinhardt for comment at 1:49 pm Saturday -- nearly 24 hours before the post appeared -- to the email address listed on his Princeton webpage. That email is reprinted below.

In the end, Reinhardt seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of the story to the interviewer.

"When all is said and done, they pointed it out and that's good," Reinhardt told the Business Insider reporter. "I had no intent to be unethical or deceitful."

In a statement on Tuesday, the NYT said it was "reviewing how to more fully describe" Reinhardt's business interests for readers.

Thus far, it hasn't mentioned them at all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NYT Spokesman Tells NYTPicker To "Call Me Bob," Then Tells NYTPicker Not To Call.

After 17 months of cooperation on dozens of stories, The NYT has declared in a statement that it will no longer answer any questions from The NYTPicker.

Responding to The NYTPicker's latest email to the NYT -- in advance of our most recent post on the paper's health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt -- we got this statement from Robert Christie, the paper's new senior vice president of corporate communications:

“It is the policy of The New York Times not to respond to bloggers or journalists who refuse to identify themselves and/or their affiliation.”

This statement from Christie followed a series of emails in which Christie asked, twice, for us to "identify yourself to me," and jovially asked us to "call me Bob."

The NYTPicker didn't accede to Christie's first request. Instead we noted that the NYT's previous communications chief, Catherine Mathis -- along with numerous NYT reporters and editors -- have regularly replied to questions from The NYTPicker ever since the website began in November of 2008.

The Christie correspondence came in the wake of The NYTPicker's Sunday post, reporting extensively on Reinhardt's stock holdings in the health care industry, and outside income from his position on several health-care industry corporate boards.

That income violates the NYT's strict ethics guidelines governing the outside income and activities of staffers and freelancers, a policy that has led to dismissals of at least three freelancers in recent months.

The NYTPicker first wrote to Christie on Saturday afternoon, nearly 14 hours before posting our story, seeking the NYT's comment.

Below, we're reprinting the latest round of emails with Christie, leading to the NYT policy statement he issued late Tuesday afternoon:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NYT Issues Statement Defending Its Indefensible Health Care Blogger With A $5-Million Health Care Stock Portfolio.

The NYT today came to the defense of its health-care blogger Uwe Reinhardt, the Princeton economics professor who sits on numerous corporate boards, holds more than $5 million in health-care stocks, and earns a $500,000-plus paycheck from the industry he covers.

On Sunday, The NYTPicker reported extensively on Reinhardt's health-care industry holdings, which directly violate the NYT's ethics rules regarding outside work and income. The NYT's online bio for Reinhardt makes no disclosure of his industry positions or his substantial corporate income.

In a statement issued today, the NYT defended Reinhardt, who writes regularly for the NYT's Economix blog. Here is the statement, in full:

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.

The statement didn't address the fact that NYT ethics rules expressly forbid any NYT staffer or freelancer 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."

Beyond that, the statement included the somewhat misleading defense that Reinhardt "has mentioned his service on corporate boards in the blog."

The NYTPicker read all 85 of Reinhardt's blog posts, and found only a single vague mention of his board memberships -- in a post on March 5, 2010, when he wrote this, in the fifth paragraph of a post about health care fraud:

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.

Otherwise, nothing. Not a word about any of his outside interests in 85 blog posts stretching back to the fall of 2008 -- posts that frequently mentioned his teaching, his government service, and one that even disclosed a recent colonoscopy.

Does the NYT actually believe that statement qualifies as a form of disclosure, or even warrants mention in a public statement from the NYT on Reinhardt?

It doesn't strike us as the sort of forthrightness demanded by Public Editor Clark Hoyt in a January column about freelancers' conflicts on interest, when he declared: "Readers are entitled to disclosure, so they can decide if there is a conflict that would effect the credibility of the information."

Today's NYT statement doesn't suggest the likelihood that the paper will take any action against Reinhardt. This seems highly hypocritical to us, especially in light of recent dismissals of freelancers like Mike Albo for taking a Jet Blue junket that had nothing to do with his Critical Shopper column for Styles.

The NYT also recently let go a regular freelance sportswriter , Joshua Robinson, amid accusations that he had used his ties to the NYT while proposing travel articles for airline magazines in exchange for free tickets.

Such situations would seem to pale by comparison with Reinhardt, who writes about health care for the NYT while earning millions from the industry he covers.

EARLIER: Ethics Breach: Princeton Prof Who Writes Regularly For NYT On Health Care Holds More Than $5 Million In Health-Care Industry Stock.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ethics Breach: Princeton Prof Who Writes Regularly For NYT On Health Care Holds More Than $5 Million In Health-Care Industry Stock.

In a significant apparent breach of NYT ethics rules, Princeton professor Uwe Reinhardt -- who writes regularly for the NYT website on health-care issues -- earns more than $500,000 a year from posts with various private health-care companies, and holds stock worth more than $5 million.

That income is in clear apparent violation of the NYT rules, which 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."

For Reinhardt, that would be the obvious conflict between his high-paying part-time gigs in the health-care industry, and his health-care blogging since November of 2009 for the NYT -- which, by the way, identifies him in its online bio only as a Princeton professor, and as a "leading health policy expert" with ties to various nonprofit groups and government agencies.

The three-paragraph NYT bio makes no mention of Reinhardt's financial ties to the health-care industry.

The matter of NYT contributors' conflict of interest has been raised recently by the NYT's Public Editor, Clark Hoyt. He wrote a column in January, "The Sources' Stake In The News," that cited several examples of NYT contributors and sources who'd been allowed (improperly, in his view) to write for -- or be quoted in -- the NYT despite an undisclosed financial interest.

The examples included an MIT health economist, Prof. Jonathan Gruber, who'd written an op-ed piece on health care without disclosing he had a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, to study health care issues. At $400,000, Gruber's contract pales in contrast with Reinhardt's seven-figure health-care industry stock portfolio.

"Readers are entitled to disclosure," Hoyt wrote in the NYT, "so they can decide if there is a conflict that would effect the credibility of the information."

The NYT's ethics policy specifically addresses health writers, perhaps because the potential for conflicts is more significant.

"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 policy says. "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)."

The NYT has been vigilant in policing breaches of its ethics rules in this area by freelance contributors. The paper has issued several editors' notes in recent months, disclosing conflicts of interest discovered after the fact. Honestly, we're a little shocked that Reinhardt slipped through the cracks, given his multitude of industry deals.

Here's a basic rundown of Reinhardt's conflicts of interests. We may have missed one or two.

As of this moment, Reinhardt is a trustee, or on the board of directors, of at least five different private health-care companies and funds -- and either now earns an income from, and/or is being paid in stock options by those for-profit businesses.

Reinhardt has sat on the board of Amerigroup Corporation, a managed health care company, since 2005. SEC documents filed in 2009 show Reinhardt holding 144,558 shares in the company, and earning $226,531 in cash-and-stock compensation. Amerigroup was trading at $33.89 a share when the markets closed on Friday, giving Reinhardt's shares a value of approximately $4.8 million.

Not bad for a Princeton prof! Or a NYT blogger. Or anybody.

As of March 2010, Reinhardt also held 75,625 shares of Boston Scientific, where he has also served on the board since 2005. At $7.23 a share, the company's current market price, his holdings are worth more than $500,000. In 2009, including stock options, Reinhardt also reported income of $213,132, according to an SEC filing.

Oh, and Boston Scientific? They make medical devices. That's health-care, too.

But wait, there's more: In 2008, the proxy statement for H&Q Healthcare Investors and H&Q Life Sciences Investors -- two funds that invest in the health care industry -- identified Reinhardt as a trustee for "HQH" since 1988, and HQL in 1992. His 2008 income from both companies totaled $43,000, and also included "between $1 and $10,000" worth of securities.

These are exactly the sort of "sector" funds that the NYT ethics policies mean when it tells its staff to steer clear.

In January of 2008, Reinhardt joined the board of directors of Legacy Hospital Partners, a private company that buys hospitals and links up the deals with not-for-profit businesses. It has no disclosure requirements that would reveal Reinhardt's pay from Legacy, but any association with a company like this -- even unpaid -- would demand disclosure.

There's a trail of Reinhardt's industry income past strewn across the Internet in SEC filings and corporate biographies. One SEC document shows Reinhardt earning $2.3 million from the sale of Triad Hospitals to Community Health Systems in 2007 for $5.1 billion. For the previous four years, Reinhardt had been on Triad's board of directors.

Does the NYT really want its health-care analysts to be folks who make millions off of hospital-chain sales deals?

By the way, all of this comes on top of Reinhardt's presumably healthy salary from Princeton, where he serves as the James Madison Professor of Political Economy. Whoops, think we forgot to mention that he's also on the board at Duke.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the NYT's strict rules on freelancers, and the fact that they've resulted in an exclusion of outside talent from the paper. Some of that we agree with. For example, we'll never understand why the NYT fired its talented Critical Shopper, Mike Albo -- a freelance writer with no apparent stock portfolio or corporate directorships -- for taking a Jet Blue junket that had nothing to do with his work.

Meanwhile, the rich Professor Reinhardt writes essays on the latest health-care debate as though he doesn't have a horse in the race. But it turns out his financial interests are tied directly to those of the companies whose stock he holds -- companies whose fortunes will change in the wake of the Obama health-care program.

People like Reinhardt are the reason these rules were written. It will be interested to see if the NYT enforces them, or ignores the problem. After firing freelancers for far less, to ignore Reinhardt's apparent rule violations would risk seeming to have a double standard.

On Saturday, we emailed Reinhardt, NYT spokesman Robert Christie and Catherine Rampell, the editor of the Economix blog, for comment on this. We'll update if/when we get a response.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Recycling Center: NYT's Seth Mydans Takes Chunks Of February IHT Profile, Adds New Lede, And Publishes Today As "New" NYT Story.

Is it okay for NYT reporters to recycle their writing from old International Herald Tribune stories into new NYT ones?

Apparently it's okay for Seth Mydans, the NYT's longtime Asia correspondent, who lifted nearly half of an IHT profile he published in February, and refashioned the material into a different article on the same person published in today's NYT.

The story -- a look at female Cambodian opposition leader Mu Sochua -- appears as today's "Saturday Profile" in the NYT's international pages.

The two stories have different ledes and some different reporting; by a rough estimate, half of today's story reflects new writing and research. But the other half is an almost word-for-word lift from the earlier piece, which ran as part of an IHT series called "The Female Factor."

The NYT owns the IHT, and the two papers share much in content. But while the papers routinely share news coverage, it isn't clear whether the NYT permits reporters to take old IHT stories and rewrite them into NYT stories, without alerting the reader.

Both stories are available on the NYT website, with no indication of any re-use or overlap.

In this instance, we at The NYTPicker clearly remember reading Mydans's story -- his original story on Mu Sochua, that is -- on the NYT website in February. We actually recalled the amusing quote at the end ("I voted for you, but don't tell anyone," a voter told Mu Sochua while handing her a guava), which is identical in both versions.

What we find most troubling here is that Mydans took his original material and shoveled it into his new piece without any indication to readers that much of his reporting had appeared weeks ago, and since gone slightly stale.

Mydans lifted phrases like "most recently" and "the other day" from the old version to the new, suggesting to readers that his reporting reflected recent comments and events. But in fact, Mydans clearly did much of his reporting on this story in February -- not "recently" or "the other day" by any stretch of the imagination.

We realize that the NYT and the IHT are merging their news gathering operations as much as possible. The NYT has even merged the former IHT website into the NYT website's new global edition. It makes sense that the NYT would occasionally want to pick up articles from IHT for the NYT, just as the IHT so often does in reverse.

But in this case -- which strikes us as unusual -- the NYT took a six-week-old page-one IHT feature and allowed the reporter to pass it off to NYT readers as new, by letting him change some sections, like the lede. The repetitions don't begin until a third of the way into the piece.

The odd notion of "self-plagiarism" has been widely discussed in academic circles, and some include it routinely on lists of ethical transgressions. One objection to it is that by lifting identical passages from one publication to another, it becomes confusing to researchers looking for original source material.

Indeed, in this case, a researcher unfamiliar with the financial ties between the two newspapers would likely be baffled by the repetition of portions of the previous piece, with a different lede, headline, thesis, etc.

Wouldn't it have been simpler, and more straightforward, for the NYT to have simply reprinted Mydans's original February piece, with a notation that it appeared originally in IHT?

It's the surreptitious nature -- and ease -- of cut-and-paste practices that have prompted so many recent cries of plagiarism, including the ones that resulted in the recent resignation of NYT business reporter Zachery Kouwe.

The NYT could avoid such problems with a policy of full disclosure when it recycles material from its wholly-owned subsidiaries in its flagship newspaper.

Here's one example (there are others) of an extended, nearly-identical passage from the two stories.

From the Feb. 22, 2010 IHT article:

And so she paused the other day at the stoop of a little cafe here in this riverside village, an open-fronted noodle shop where men sat in the midday heat on red plastic chairs.

She had succeeded in halting a sand-dredging project that was eroding riverbanks here, and she wanted the men to know that she had been working on their behalf.

“I came here to inform you that you got a result from the government,” she told the men, showing them a legal document. “I want to inform you that you have a voice. If you see something wrong, you can stand up and speak about it.”

Asked afterward what it was like to have a woman fighting his battles, Mol Sa, 37, a fisherman, said, “She speaks up for us, so I don’t think she’s any different from a man. Maybe a different lady couldn’t do it, but she can do it because she is strong and not afraid.”

Fear was a theme as Ms. Mu Sochua moved through the countryside here. At another village, where cracks were appearing in the sandy embankment, a widow named Pal Nas, 78, said the big dredging boats had scared her.

“I’m afraid that if I speak out, they will come after me,” she said. “In the Khmer Rouge time, they killed all the men. When night comes, I don’t have a man to protect me. It’s more difficult if you are a woman alone.”

Mr. Hun Sen’s party holds power throughout most of rural Cambodia, and Ms. Mu Sochua said that party agents kept an eye on her as she campaigned.

Before she boarded the little boat to cross the river, a man on a motorcycle took photographs of her and her companions with a cellphone, then drove away.

Across the river, a farmer greeted her warmly, climbing a tree to pick ripe guavas for her.

“I voted for you,” he said as he handed her the fruit. “But don’t tell anyone.”

From today's NYT profile, with some small changes and additions:

She paused politely the other day at the stoop of a small open-fronted noodle shop in this riverside village, where men sat in the midday heat on red plastic chairs. She let her male assistants enter first.

She had succeeded in halting a sand-dredging project that was eroding riverbanks here, and she wanted the men to know that she had been working on their behalf. “I came here to inform you that you got a result from the government,” she told the men, showing them a legal document. “I want to inform you that you have a voice. If you see something wrong, you can stand up and speak about it.”

Asked afterward what it was like to have a woman fighting his battles, Mol Sa, 37, a fisherman, said, “She speaks up for us, so I don’t think she’s any different from a man. Maybe a different lady couldn’t do it, but she can do it because she is strong and not afraid.”

Fear was a theme as Ms. Mu Sochua moved through the countryside here.

At another village where cracks were appearing in the sandy embankment, a widow named Pal Nas, 78, said the big dredging boats had scared her.

“I’m afraid that if I speak out they will come after me,” she said. “In the Khmer Rouge time they killed all the men. When night comes I don’t have a man to protect me. It’s more difficult if you are a woman alone.”

Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling party holds power through most of rural Cambodia, and Ms. Mu Sochua said party agents kept an eye on her as she campaigned. At one point a man on a motorbike took photographs of her and her companions with a mobile telephone, then drove away.

Later, as the sun began to set, a farmer greeted her warmly, calling out to his wife and climbing a tree to pick ripe guavas for her.

“I voted for you,” he said as he handed her the fruit. “But don’t tell anyone.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Does The Styles Section Even Have A Copy Editor? Skin Deep Column Refers To "Underground Contingency Of Individuals..."

Over in the NYT's "Skin Deep" column today in the Styles section, a few pages away from today's Memorable Gaffe -- where Alex Williams misspelled the word "mispelled" in the gossip bloggers cover story -- another easily avoidable mistake also made it into the paper.

In freelance writer Dana Schuster's piece, "Hairstylists Who Make House Calls," this mysterious and incomprehensible phrase appears:

It’s not uncommon for hairdressers to make house calls for events like weddings or bar mitzvahs. But a seemingly underground contingency of individuals book their regular beauty appointments directly through their hairstylists, eyebrow groomers, bikini waxers and facialists, often unbeknownst to the technician’s or stylist’s employing salon.

We're not positive, but we're pretty confident that there is no such thing as an "underground contingency."

Maybe it's an "underground conspiracy."

Or an "underground community."

It's also possible she meant "underarm consistency."

We look forward to the NYT's next correction! The last one was so funny.

We also look forward to NYT editors actually reading the Styles section stories before they go in the paper.

Memorable Gaffe: In Gossip Blogger Story, NYT's Alex Williams Actually Misspells The Word "Misspelled."

Today's Styles section cover story by Alex Williams about gossip bloggers includes a section of mini-profiles, in which Williams notes each blogger's most egregious blunder in a section called "Memorable Gaffe."

Well, here's a "Memorable Gaffe" for Williams. In his entry on Gawker night/weekend editor Maureen O'Connor, he writes this:

MEMORABLE GAFFE: Took Fox News to task over a typo in a chyron (a term for the graphics at the bottom of a TV screen) identifying former the Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth as a “congresswoman.” Too bad Ms. O’Connor mispelled the word chyron in the post.

Uh, fellas? Misspelled has two s's!

The above is a screen grab from the NYT website taken this morning around 8:00 a.m.

The misspelling of misspelled as "mispelled" has since been corrected on the web version, but misspelled remains misspelled as "mispelled" in the print edition.

This sort of embarrassing mistake -- especially in the context of scolding another journalist for their misspelling -- doesn't do much to allay reader fears that recent budget cuts have reduced the quality of NYT copy editing.

UPDATE: The NYT has appended a correction to the gossip bloggers story this afternoon, addressing its misspelling of misspelling as "mispelling." Here is the correction, in full:

An earlier version of this article contained its own Memorable Gaffe in discussing Maureen O'Connor's error on the term chyron. In noting that Ms. O'Connor misspelled chyron, the article said "mispelled." What's the old saying? People who (literally) live in glass houses . . .