On Friday, New York Times reporter Rick Bragg insisted to the Columbia Journalism Review he'd done nothing wrong in claiming 1) the byline for a story that an unpaid free-lancer had reported for him and 2) the dateline "Apalachicola, Fla.," after visiting the town only briefly. (See "Rick Bragg's 'Dateline Toe-Touch.' ")
"I wouldn't have done anything different," Bragg tells CJR.
Bragg reiterates that position to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz again today—as he pre-announces his resignation from the New York Times. He tells Kurtz:
I have dictated stories from an airport after writing the story out in longhand on the plane that I got from phone interviews and then was applauded by editors for "working magic." … Those things are common at the paper. Most national correspondents will tell you they rely on stringers and researchers and interns and clerks and news assistants.
Bragg continues his defense, saying Times stringers and interns "should get more credit for what they do," but in "taking feeds" from such assistants, "I have never even thought of whether or not that is proper. Maybe there is something missing in me. ..."
I will take it from a stringer. I will take it from an intern. I will take it from a news assistant. If a clerk does an interview for me, I will use it. I'm going to send people to sit in for me if I don't have time to be there. It is not unusual to send someone to conduct an interview you don't have time to conduct. It's what we do.
In his pique and all his declarations of innocence, Bragg would like readers to believe he is the victim of the post-Blair "poisonous atmosphere" that's settled over the Times. The real issue isn't Rick Bragg's conduct, he asserts; it's the backroom politics of the New York Times, and he's just the pawn in that elaborate struggle.
Everyone who ever wanted to get even for a slight or unpleasantry or act out their jealousy now has their chance, and it will continue. … What I don't understand is the callousness of some people who would try to use this situation to settle their political squabbles. It is shameful that some people are using it in a power grab at the newspaper. It's just about the saddest thing I've ever seen.
Bragg maintains that his editors were "fully aware" of his Apalachicola methodology, citing the approved techniques he used in reporting from the Oklahoma City bombings. Details for those stories came from "a stack four feet high" of clips from the Oklahoman, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and other papers. "From each one of the stories I took a piece of the pain he had caused people," Bragg tells the Post. "We backed it up with interviews. That's what we're supposed to do. We gather the string that's out there."
Before we allow Bragg to blame his troubles on Times internal politics or let him imply that the Times knew what he was up to and that everybody does what he does, let's review Times policies on datelines and bylines. Let's also determine which of those policies Bragg violated. Via e-mail, Times spokeswoman Catherine J. Mathis takes her best shot at sorting it all out for you.