Nothing in this story out-weirds the fact that Eichenwald didn't tell his editors or his readers about the $2,000 transaction. "Follow the money" is the motto of journalists everywhere. Such a tainted check would weigh on the conscience of any reporter. Why didn't it tug on Eichenwald's?
The good news about Eichenwald screw-up is that it provides Byron Calame with his last big chance to redeem his lumbering term as New York Times public editor. When, exactly, did Eichenwald ask for the money back? And why? Because he realized he had made a mistake? Eichenwald explains to the AP that he didn't tell his editors about the payment because it slipped his mind. How can you forget: 1) paying somebody $2,000, 2) asking for it back, and 3) getting it back (the Editors' Note says Berry's family helped return the money to Eichenwald)?
What "role" did Eichenwald think he was playing when he sent the $2,000 check? Berry's rescuer? Was he posing as a customer? Or was he buying his way into a potential source's good graces? When did Times editors learn of the complicated transaction? Would they have published the story if they had known about it?
It's all very bizarre, and Eichenwald agrees, telling the AP:
I know I did unusual things, and if I should have disclosed what I did as a private citizen in more detail, so be it. But put me through the same situation, I can't say I'd do anything differently.
I trust that Calame is making phone calls now.
Addendum, 10:10 p.m.: A wise Slate colleague sent me mail shortly after this story posted asking what sort of legal trouble was Eichenwald courting to send $2,000 to a "camwhore" like Justin Berry in response to a Web "auction." Whether acting as a journalist or a civilian, how would you explain such a payment-loan to your editors, to your lawyers, or to the cops?
Addendum, March 8, 5 p.m.: Eichenwald defends himself in Romenesko.
Disclosure: In early October 2006, Eichenwald phoned me to ask if I'd talk to his new employers at Portfoliomagazine about possibly working there. I said I would be happy to talk, and he passed the message upstairs. I never heard from them. Do I think he was trying to play me? No. I think he enjoyed my criticisms as much as he disagreed with them. Also, I could shoot myself for ignoring the tips I started receiving in November 2006 alleging that Eichenwald had cut Justin Berry a $2,000 check. Eichenwald is a pariah in some corners of the Web for making life difficult for child pornographers, and by November 2006, I had chased so many unfounded allegations from them about his conduct that I dismissed the ones about the check. Send an Editors' Note of your own berating me for my performance to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slateis owned by the Washington Post Co.)