NYT scandal has 'legs'!

NYT scandal has 'legs'!

NYT scandal has 'legs'!

A mostly political Weblog.
May 24 2003 7:12 PM

NYT Scandal Has Legs!

Plus: Lusting after JFK, accepting Iraq.

I've been in the journalism business for a couple of decades now, including a brief stint at a daily paper. I always thought that when I read a New York Times reporter's byline on a story it meant the Times reporter had actually gone out and reported the story. I was so naive! ... The sensational news from yesterday's Editor's Note  isn't so much that the New York Times' Rick Bragg fraudulently suggested he was present when a quaint oysterman spouted quaint, perfect quotes as he pushed his quaint boat over Apalachicola Bay (if, in fact, this ever happened at all). As Jack Shafer notes, Bragg has been an editor-protected scandalette-waiting-to-happen for years. But I'm genuinely shocked--not for-show shocked and not "shocked, shocked"--at the apparent complaints from other Times reporters that they're now confused because they routinely rewrite the reporting work of stringers (non-Times freelancers) and slap their own bylines at the top! Blair was arguably an aberration. This seems to be systemic. According to the New York Post'sKelly and Barack:

Many Times staffers said they were surprised by the note, since it is common for Times reporters to use material from stringers without giving credit.

"People write off memos filed by stringers a lot," said one insider. "The policy was that the person writing the story got the byline." [Emphasis added.]

Instapundit has posted reader e-mails confirming this NYT practice, and he's shocked too! ... More: Isn't this sort of rewriting-from-files what Newsweek and Time famously do? Wasn't the N.Y. Times's form of journalism alway considered a bit purer because the person who did the reporting also did the writing and stood by it? It turns out we weren't reading the reporting of the famous, cream-of-the-profession Times employees, but the reporting of unidentified "stringers" we've never heard of. ... Conventional journalists sometimes sneer at blogs because there's no way for a reader to know whether what a random, unknown person says on his Web site is true. But it sounds as if the Times is not so different from a  blogafter all--what you are reading is really the work of random, unknown "legs" and stringers. ...


P.S.: Of course, in other ways the Times and the typical blog are very different forms of jounalism. One obsessively reflects the personal biases, enthusiasms and grudges of a single individual. The other is just an online diary! ...

P.P.S.: According to WaPo's Howie "Konflict" Kurtz, an internal memo from Allan Siegel, head of the newly appointed NYT in-house reform committee (or was it his stringer?), asks, "Would we be embarrassed if readers knew the extent of stringers' contribution to reporters' work?" Gee, do you think? Could that be why the stringers' contributions are, you know, kept hidden? ...That one should take a few months to answer. ...

P.P.P.S.: An obvious solution to the Time's secret-stringer problem is to name the actual reporters, the way Newsweek typically does. (It also helps Newsweek and Time that many of their actual reporters are well-known figures, not unknowns.) ... But the other solution is to go in the other direction--eliminate all bylines and let the reader assume that every story is the product of a collaborative rewrite. That's what the Economist does. But a)Times reporters would never stand for the Economist solution; and b) The Economist system, unless rigorously policed, seems like a recipe for Bragg-style fakery. ... Not that British journalism has a reputation for that sort of thing! ...

P.P.P.P.S.: Not only did the Times, as Andrew Sullivan notes, pick a Friday before a holiday to announce the potentially tipping-point-tipping Bragg reprimand. It picked a holiday Friday when Romenesko was on vacation! ... Embattled Times editor Howell Raines really must be worried. ...


P.P.P.P.P.S.:Kausfiles' East Coast stringer, the rumpled, homespun Robert M. "Bobby" Kaus, confirms the deep, deep antipathy toward Raines at the Times. ... [Hasn't the Times had autocrats before? Remember Abe Rosenthal?-ed. Yes. But I guess it's one thing to have an autocrat, like Rosenthal, who is an autocrat in pursuit of some idea of institutional greatness. It's another to have an autocrat who is seen as pursuing his own vendettas and crusades.] .... 4:41 P.M.

Friday, May 23, 2003

How's the book tour going? Are you getting attacked by the right-wing conspiracy?

As a matter of fact, I just finished doing Sean Hannity's radio show. He had me on for 45 minutes; he wanted me to do the whole hour, but I told him I had to run for this interview.

David, excuse me, it's the president on the other line. Can I call you back?

[Twenty minutes later]

So how's the president doing?

I'm sorry, I couldn't get him [Clinton] off the phone -- he's pumped about all this stuff.


Here's a question: Is Talbot slyly making fun of Blumenthal here? A Slate colleague says yes--the "twenty minutes later" is gratuitous.   I say no way--Talbot's not that subtle, and Blumenthal's his guy. Talbot probably thinks the incident makes Blumenthal look bigger, not Clinton smaller. You, the reader, make the call! ... Pssst, Sid! He's not "the president" anymore. ... 1:39 A.M.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

"Life is so much better now": USA Today covers the Big Good News in "ghetto poor" communities, and gives welfare reform partial credit. ... 3:08 A.M.

Hit 'em Where It Hurtz? WaPo's Howie Kurtz has been hammering the New York Times hard  on the Jayson Blair scandal. I'm sure NYT editor Howell Raines is much too professional and thick-skinned to retaliate by ordering up a story on Kurtz's glaring, indefensible, begging-to-be-publicized conflict-of-interest in reporting about CNN while also being paid by CNN. ... Give Kurtz points for writing what he's written when he's got such a fatally exposed flank. ...


More: Instapundit says I'm wrong--as long as Kurtz discloses his conflict, "everybody knows about" it. Scrutineer says Instapundit's wrong. Jeff Jarvis says Instapundit's right. I say Scrutineer's right! 

Why?  In general, I agree that conflicts of interest are overblown (by Howie Kurtz, among others), are to some degree unavoidable, and in some cases might even be desirable. Michael Kinsley once asked if it was a conflict of interest for a mother to have two sons. Politicians balance competing interests all the time--it's their job. And if the Washington Post wants, say, to let a paid publicist for General Motors write its coverage of the automotive industry--hey, it's a free country. The Post can do whatever it wants.. As long as the conflict is disclosed readers are equally free to trust the Post or not.

But of course it would be a big scandal if the Post did that, the Post would never do it, and it would get all huffy if, say, the New York Times did it. Letting someone in the pay of General Motors write automotive stories--Charles Kaiser's more precise Kurtz analogy--is also something the Post would never do, even with full disclosure. The rule against it might be overly cautious prophylaxis, but it's the normal rule....  Remember, the editor of the Washington Post , Leonard Downie, doesn't even vote for fear of introducing a subtle element of bias into his news judgments. Kurtz himself once sniped at, yes, me, after I got a fully-disclosed $1.92 (one dollar, ninety-two cents) from Amazon.com when readers bought a favorably-reviewed book through a link on my site. My guess is CNN pays Kurtz more than $1.92 to host his network TV show.

So a) Kurtz's conflict, whether or not it should be that big a deal, violates his own pedantic standards, his paper's standards, and the general standards of the mainstream press. That's at least hypocritical and makes Kurtz vulnerable to a Kurtz-like attack; b) A minor point--it turns out Kurtz actually doesn't always disclose; c) A major point--Kurtz has in fact gone soft on CNN in at least one big recent story, the Eason Jordan confession. I always assumed Kurtz was pretty fearless once he was on the case (though the way a conflict would most likely do damage is by tempting reporters to not to even start covering stories that might cause trouble). After the Jordan business I started to have doubts. Maybe this isn't just the appearance of a conflict after all, but the substance of a conflict, and not a desirable one either. I bet Kurtz's CNN gig is mighty important to him--it's why he's a national figure. A prophylactic rule doesn't seem stupid at all in this case. It's do-able--Kurtz's conflict is hardly unavoidable. If he doesn't want to quit CNN, give him a new beat at the Post!  As a WaPo reader, I'd rather have a media reporter whom I didn't have to worry about when it came time to blast or defend a major press institution. ... More: Instapundit responds. ... 2:34 A.M.


A clean break: I haven't watched any of the Democratic debates, so maybe somebody has already had this idea, but isn't the obvious move for one of the non-hawkish Democrats to accept the Iraq invasion as a fait accompli, and question not whether it should have happened but whether the Bush administration is doing enough to capitalize on its possible upside (and avoid the downside)? This approach would immediately open up two obvious, strong lines of attack: 1) Bush is frittering away the fruits of victory not being prepared, not having enough troops on the ground, not spending enough money to rebuild Iraq; 2) Bush is also blowing our new advantage by not doing as much as possible to bring Ariel Sharon, as well as the PLO, along on the "roadmap." ... True, this strategy would require embracing the idea that the invasion (and the grand neo-con strategy) did have a possible upside, which is something Democratic primary voters might not want to hear. And point (2) might alienate some mainstream pro-Israel organizations. But one way to distinguish yourself in a crowded field is to show you're willing to alienate people the rest of the pack is scared of. (Plus you'd get money from these guys!) ...Certainly the idea that Bush isn't capitalizing on our victory seems more salient at the moment than the Democrats' favorite charge--that Bush is somehow stinting on "homeland security." ... 2:22 A.M

Lucianne Goldberg, who bizarrely worked in the Kennedy White House, is highly informative about the lust of JFK's interns ("the Muffykikideedees") for the boss, in an era when women weren't supposed to admit to such things. ... 2:00 A.M.

Monday, May 19, 2003

More Big Good News: The left has complained for years when welfare-reform enthusiasts measure success by the sharp (more than 50%) reduction in caseloads since the mid-1990s. I agree--lower caseloads are good but they're not everything. Yet the left's proposed measure of success, income and poverty, is equally flawed. If all the 1996 welfare reform did was take non-working single mothers on welfare and turn them into working single-mothers with exactly the same incomes, it would be a huge success. Voters, who supported reform by huge majorities, thought welfare recipients should work and that good social consequences would follow if work replaced welfare.

That's the real test of success--whether life is actually getting better in America's "underclass" ghettos. Now there is powerful statistical evidence that this is in fact happening. Concentrated poverty (a bad thing, and one of the defining characteristics of the "underclass" as described by sociologist William Julius Wilson) has dropped dramatically in the U.S.--by almost a quarter--after doubling from 1970 to 1990. Robert Pear, citing researcher Paul Jargowsky, reports:

"Concentrated poverty — the share of the poor living in high-poverty neighborhoods — declined among all racial and ethnic groups, especially African-Americans," Mr. Jargowsky said.

In 1990, 30 percent of poor blacks lived in high-poverty neighborhoods. Ten years later, the proportion was 19 percent.


Pear rightly credits welfare reform, in part, with this success. The reasons seem obvious: welfare reform produced a dramatic jump in the participation of single mothers in the labor force. When you work, you not only get richer--you also tend to get out of your neighborhood and discover the rest of your city. Working also breaks down stereotypes of lower income, single mothers--especially African-American single mothers-that may underlie resistance in non-poor areas to having such people as neighbors. Not to mention the gauzier benefits of working, like "role-modeling" and the effect of the disciplined rhythm of work on home life and school performance. ... More: Here's the Minneapolis Star-Tribune report on "a development that normally sober social scientists are calling 'astonishing,' even 'stunning" .... Here's the Brookings Institution event (which starts in a few hours) that will discuss Jargowsky's findings. ... Bonus Raines angle: Hey, didn't Howell Raines' NYT editorial page adamantly oppose the successful 1996 welfare reform? It did! Raines' page called the reform "atrocious," denounced President Clinton for signing it, and predicted "the effect on some cities will be devastating"! ... Raines experts say the NYT executive editor's self-righteous, egomaniacal G.S.W.B. moralism made him as un-blindered in evaluating welfare policy as he was in evaluating Jayson Blair! ... 1:59 A.M.

Newsweek-skipper: I didn't know Jayson Blair had resigned from the Univeristy of Maryland college paper he ran, "for 'personal reasons,'" (according to Newsweek). I'd thought the college paper had been his big credential. More evidence of due diligence, diversity-style. ... Allan Sloan says  it would take 6 of 8 Sulzberger family trustees to ditch Pinch. Seems like a longshot. ... Jonathan Alter defends Sulzberger's paper- "When The New York Times loses power, the U.S. government gains it."--as if the Times were synonymous with "the press." What's the Washington Post, chopped liver? ... Ellis Cose  makes clear the dynamic the LAT's  Tim Rutten  also identified: It's either "blame affirmative action" or "blame the editors"-- which means that defensive affirmative-action supporters on the left are among those coming down hardest on Raines & Co.. After all he's done for them! ... 1:25 A.M.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

David Warsh, who (as he notes) lost his Boston Globe gig when NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger sacked his boss, helps move the post-Blair debate away from "blame Raines" to "blame Pinch." ... It turns out Pinch was not a shoo-in for the publisher's job, according to Warsh -- there were various shareholding cousins to satisfy, and other candidates for the position. The Globe's's publisher had been a potential internal rival, Warsh argues ... But having told us that Pinch was vulnerable once, Warsh doesn't answer the much-more-relevant question of whether Pinch could be deposed now if the Times board gets worried. ... Warsh does contribute a good graf on the younger Sulzberger's susceptibility to managerial BS:

All of which must be disappointing to a man who rode into the Times on his enthusiasm for "Total Quality Management." In fact, Sulzberger has displayed throughout his career a softspot for management fads, "mission statements," "leadership moments" and the like. In recent years a favorite gimmick around the Times has been to speak of "the moose in the room" — a reference to a cautionary business fable about out-of-bounds problems in which a moose is invited to dinner and no guest is willing to ask why.

Cautionary note to Warsh: I don't think there was a "mounted head of a moose" on the stage of the movie theater where the Pinch/Howell/Gerald troika held their recent mass venting session. My sources, plus the Daily News, say Pinch had a stuffed toy moose in a plastic bag and dumped it on Raines' lap (which might be kind of symbolic, if you think about it)... 12:59 P.M.

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Vision, Please! Kf demands that Don Graham  follow Stanley Kurtz's advice and take the Washington Post national. ... Graham should have done it years ago, and now seems like a propitious moment to rectify that strategic mistake: WaPo's historic competition, the New York Times, has been humbled. The NYT is not inconsiderably discredited among the opinion elite. Its editor is hated by half his staff. Dozens of good Times reporters are ready to jump ship. ...The Times-despising Bushies would be so grateful they'd probably get the FCC to throw in a couple of extra television licenses! ... Will Graham do it? Almost certainly not. He's always been happy to stay local, watch his profits go up while his paper's footprint on the national landscape shrivels. ... Is that what Graham wants on his tombstone: "He made his stock go up"?  ... As long as the Post is only the local paper of the nation's capitol, remember, sources with prime information to leak will always tend to give it to the NYT first. ... Plan B: Join with the Tribune Co. (owner of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune) to put out a national edition while spreading the inevitable initial losses. Make Pinch Pay! ... 12:40 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run:Reason gone wild! Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]