The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, March 12, 2004

New York Times: when is a conflict of interest?

Yet another sidelight on the strange ways of West 43rd Street.

Eric Alterman at The Nation (March 11) highlights the Jay Blotcher case - which has been knocking around for some time, I think, but is not without interest to latecomers.

Blotcher was a Times stringer who was dropped from the team on account of his connection with ACT UP. They said he had a conflict of interest which made his continuing to work for the rag inappropriate.

Alterman passes on the Times' explanation:
The Times is making its case not on Blotcher's membership in ACT UP, which really would be McCarthyism, but on his role as a "public spokesperson for an advocacy organization." Executive editor Bill Keller notes that Blotcher was identified as such in the newspaper as recently as 1998.

Excuse me? 1998?!

He goes on:
Thanks in large measure to Blair, the Times is going over its lists of contributors with what Metro editor Susan Edgerley--who made the initial decision--admits is a policy of "setting the bar high to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest." Somebody remembered Blotcher's earlier role, and she made the move, she told me, to protect against "confusion about the two roles in the minds of readers.".

1998! Who remembers a fact as insignificant as that which they read in a newspaper six years ago? And, let it not be forgotten, the niggardly Times bars its archives to all except those with long purses.

Is the 1998 reference to Blotcher online in any form available to the public that doesn't hand over moolah to view the rag's precious archives?

Blotcher has a conflict of interest in the same way as I'm in danger from man-eating crocodiles in Queensland!

Alterman points to others at the Times whose conflicts are not quite so remote:
Blotcher and his supporters point out that many Times staffers have relationships that could "confuse" readers. Indeed, medical correspondent Dr. Lawrence K. Altman has many such professional associations with various medical establishments, public and private. Bernard Weinraub covers Hollywood for the paper, while his wife is a head honcho at Sony Pictures. Just recently, the Times found itself embarrassed when one of its culture reporters, Jesse McKinley, accepted a makeover of his apartment, estimated to be worth more than $50,000, for an Oprah program. These cases do not involve the "appearance" of conflict-of-interest but its essence.

And - lo and behold! - he reveals that one of those pointing the finger at Blotcher was none other than Mr Conflict of Interest himself, Howard Kurtz, the WaPo hack who comments on the media for CNN.

One question to ask, of course, is: How many other Times journos have been kicked out for conflict of interest since the onset of what Alterman calls
post-Blair hyper-fastidiousness about appearances

Since Blotcher's case shows that the most minute potential conflict is fatal, I assume that dozens have bitten the dust.

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