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Does Linda Greenhouse Have a Conflict of Interest?

Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times is one of the nation's best known and well-respected Supreme Court reporters. She also has an undisclosed conflict of interest in cases relating to military tribunals and the war on terror, according to Ed Whelan. In a series of posts (see here, here, here, and here), Whelan argued that Greenhouse should have disclosed to her readers that her husband, Eugene Fidell, is President of the National Institute of Military Justice and has participated as an attorney in cases before the Court that Greenhouse covered. Most notably, Fidell was counsel of record for this amicus brief in Hamdan v. Rumsefeld filed on behalf of the NIMJ and D.C. Bar Association.

NYT Public Editor Clark Hoyt addressed the charges yesterday. Hoyt reports that Greenhouse the NYT editors dismiss any concerns about a conflct.

Dean Baquet, the Washington bureau chief, called the conflict "abstract" and said that Fidell and his institute were minor figures in the cases. Greenhouse said her husband does not represent any prisoners, and "there is to my mind a significant difference between representing a party in a case and taking a position on an issue raised by a case."
Hoyt also reports that more recently Fidell has refrained from signing NIMJ briefs in detainee-related cases covered by Greenhouse so as to avoid any appearance of a conflict.

To Greenhouse's credit, she reportedly raised the issue of a potential conflict before covering the first case in which her husband was involved. According to Hoyt, her editors did not see a problem because Fidell did not represent a party in the case, although he did represent amici and headed an organization with an intense interest in the litigation. Nonetheless, Hoyt thinks the Times should have done more.

Lee Wilkins, a professor of journalism at the University of Missouri and editor of The Journal of Mass Media Ethics, said, "Conflict of interest is practically the only place in ethics where perceptions matter almost as much as what is the case." Like it or not, the perception is that Greenhouse is writing about something in which her husband is a player — and The Times isn't telling the public. Newspapers routinely question public officials in similar circumstances.

What would I have done differently?

First, I would not have removed Greenhouse from the story. As Wilkins said, if The Times did that, "we have knowingly given our readers less than our best." But after the first conversation between Greenhouse and Taubman, The Times should have clued in readers.

Second, I would have practiced what Steele called "transparency with accountability," revisiting the issue from time to time, certainly with each new case, to determine Fidell's level of participation and whether the initial decision should be reconsidered. Taubman recalls doing that, but when Baquet became bureau chief last March, he was not told of Taubman's understanding with Greenhouse. And, despite the guidelines, nobody told Craig Whitney, the standards editor.

Finally, I think The Times should systematically disclose more about what Steele termed the intersections between the personal and professional lives of its journalists. This could be done in biographies on the newspaper's Web site. Greenhouse's biography says, "She is married to Eugene R. Fidell, a lawyer." That is not enough.

Bill Keller, the executive editor, said, "I happily endorse that approach." But he said he does not want to single out Greenhouse for this treatment because it would appear to be a tacit rebuke in the face of a partisan assault.

The point is not to punish Greenhouse, who does not deserve that. It is to make the newspaper less vulnerable to attacks like Whelan's.

One thing I don't get about Hoyt's column is that if, as he argues, there is a need for greater "transparency and accountability" in cases like this, how is noting potential conflicts on the paper's website sufficient? If there is enough of an apparent conflict to justify disclosure, then it seems plain the disclosure should occur in (or alongside) the article itself. After all, why should a reader have to conduct research to find a potential conflict? Why should readers of the NYT's print edition be denied such information?

For his part, Whelan has a three-part response to Hoyt's column on here, here, and here.

NOTE: In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that Whelan and I are both contributors to NRO's Bench Memos, which is where Whelan's charges have been published.

UPDATE: Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon rush to Greenhouse's defense. Meanwhile, Whelan has yet a fourth entry in his response to Hoyt's column.

In reading over the comment thread below, I find it interesting how rapidly people rush to reductio ad absurdem arguments here, as if acknowledging that Greenhouse may have had a sufficient conflict to justify minimal disclosure in stories about the handful of cases in which her husband's outfit filed briefs would somehow open the floodgates. This seems to be a fairly simple and straightforward way to handle the appearance of a potential conflict. For good or ill, we regularly assume that the interests of an individual are influenced by the interests of his or her spouse. Political journalists typically disclose if they have a spouse who works for a candidate or official whom they are discussing. Nina Easton, for instance, routinely notes that her husband is a Romney advisor when discussing Republican candidates on the Fox News Channel, and NRO's Jonah Goldberg would regularly note that his wife worked for Attorney General John Aschroft when he wrote about the AG. By the same token, I think this whole hullabaloo would have been avoided — the Whelan critiques and the Hoyt column (which is not the first Public Editor column on Greenhouse) — had the NYT simply provided more information about the work of Greenhouse's husband in cases she covered, even it was only as an amicus.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ed Whelan responds to Lithwick and Bazelon here.

Justin Levine:
In my view, there are two kinds of conflicts of interest with regards to journalism.

The first kind involves a direct and serious conflict wherein the reporter should not be assigned to cover the story.

The second kind involves a potential and seeming conflict that doesn't necessarily require removal from a story - merely disclosure to the reader so that they can read the story with appropriate scrutiny and caution.

I think this falls into the second catergoy. It would have been OK for Greenhouse to still write about it, PROVIDED that the paper had been upfront about the potential conflict in the text of the article. But it is insane to label it a non-issue that should have been ignored.
1.21.2008 10:45pm
frankcross (mail):
Seems like a legitimate issue, that Whelan has brought forward.

But I find it utterly astounding that people who are themselves so patently biased as Whelan ("this week in liberal judicial activism") charge others with bias. I happen to agree that Greenhouse is biased for the liberal position on a subset of Supreme Court issues. But Whelan obviously has his own enormous bias. How can he charge Clark Hoyt with the inability to assess the situation? And of course NRO is biased, it's a source that consistently takes conservative positions. So give up the "bias" attack.
1.21.2008 10:52pm
Freddy Hill:
frankcross, Whelan writes in an opinion blog. He's writing opinion and publishing it on NRO, for crying out loud. If you don't know where he's coming from it's your problem.

Greenhouse writes *news* articles for the *nyt*. She's a *news reporter*. Don't you see a difference?
1.21.2008 10:59pm
p.d.:
"But I find it utterly astounding that people who are themselves so patently biased as Whelan ("this week in liberal judicial activism") charge others with bias."

When does Whelan hold himself out as an objective journalist? Do you really not see the difference in the capacity of each writer?
1.21.2008 10:59pm
Truth Seeker:
I love the story about how Greenhouse fantasizes that her opinions are all facts!

Here.
1.21.2008 11:20pm
Sk (mail):
Irrelevant. Not because it is a condition that should or should not be addressed by a news organization that is attempting to preserve unbiased 'news,' but because the concept of unbiased news is no longer valid (it probably never was valid to begin with).

You are presuming that there is a difference between biased news, unbiased news, and opinion. There simply is no difference. We, the American culture, had sort of a gentleman's agreement that unbiased news was achievable and being achieved for a brief period (say, from the 1930's to the 1990's or so)-we had a common culture for that period largely due to the status of technology (three tv stations, maybe three national newspapers; informaition throughout the country was probably controlled by 400 people).

That didn't exist before (did people in St. Louis in 1921, or Georgia in 1850, or Virginia in 1780 think the New York Times had 'unbiased' news? Of course not-they had no access to the New York Times-they read the St. Louis, Virginia, and Georgia newspapers). That doesn't exist today. With the choices available, people read the New York Times (or the Wall Street Journal, or any other source) because they agree with them-not because one source is more right than another.

Is a columnist married to the wrong person? Who cares. there are few thousand other columnists right here on the web.

Sk
1.21.2008 11:33pm
Bert Campaneris (mail):
SK, no one is suggesting that the NY Times can't be an advocate for whatever it chooses. They should just be honest about it instead of pretending that they are being objective (or as objective as is humanly possible.)
1.22.2008 12:20am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Long time ago, I worked for a well-known editor who was also a lawyer.

He was a feminist, and his position was that husbands and wives were independent actors and the mere fact that they were married did not create a conflict of interests.

Although the cases in which this arose as a practical consideration did not involve one spouse benefitting financially from the activity of the other, I suppose in such a case he would have found a conflict on the same rules as you would between two unmarried business partners.

I have never decided how much I buy into this; I'm comfortable deciding on a case-by-case business.

But one thing as a newspaperman I'm sure of is that knee-jerk conflicts are baloney. I am thinking in particular of a scandal alleged against Bill Clinton because someone in the White House travel office was his fifth-cousin.

I'm not an admirer of Greenhouse's reporting and never have been, going back to the '70s, but I don't quite see how SUPCO reporting is even susceptible of this sort of conflict problem. What's she gonna do, invent cites?
1.22.2008 12:22am
Truth Seeker:
Is a columnist married to the wrong person? Who cares. there are few thousand other columnists right here on the web.

But then the sources, like the NYT, NPR should not pretend to provide news. "All the news that fits our agenda" should be their motto. I think there are still people who don't realize the skew. Some people claim the MSM is biassed to the right for god sakes!

Oh, and she's not a columnist, she's a reporter, there's a big difference.
1.22.2008 12:24am
Bert Campaneris (mail):
I'm not an admirer of Greenhouse's reporting and never have been, going back to the '70s, but I don't quite see how SUPCO reporting is even susceptible of this sort of conflict problem. What's she gonna do, invent cites?

Media bias generally takes the form of selecting which facts to present, not making facts up.
1.22.2008 12:28am
Kazinski:
I think Adler is taking an unfair shot at the NY-Times by putting a note at the bottom disclosing his own connection with Whelan. By making it seem so effortless to disclose potential conflicts he makes it seem like it would be easy for NY-Times to do the same. Oh.
1.22.2008 12:35am
OrinKerr:
You are presuming that there is a difference between biased news, unbiased news, and opinion. There simply is no difference.

That's what you think.
1.22.2008 12:41am
JohnAnnArbor:

I am thinking in particular of a scandal alleged against Bill Clinton because someone in the White House travel office was his fifth-cousin.

Actually, the scandal there was that they fired the whole travel office to bring in their own cronies. When questioned, they falsely called the fired employees corrupt.
1.22.2008 12:44am
Bert Campaneris (mail):
On July 3, 1993, the White House issued its own "strikingly self-critical" 80-page report on the firings. Co-written by McLarty, it criticized five White House officials, included McLarty himself, Watkins, Kennedy, Cornelius, and another, for dismissing the Travel Office members improperly, for appearing to pressure the FBI into its involvement, and for allowed Clintons friends to become involved in a matter they had a business stake in.

Thats from the great Wiki god.

Harry, its best to give up arguing someone's innocence once they admit to the wrongdoing.
1.22.2008 12:53am
Mike& (mail):
I loathe the Times, and I am practically a tin-foil hat type when it comes to that despicable company. I sincerely hope they go bankrupt. That said, I see no issue.

Her husband signed an amicus brief. Big deal. Signing an amicus brief is so much different from representing a live client. Anyone can file an amicus brief. There are even many articles noting that most amicus briefs do nothing other than give special interest groups an opportunity to say: "Hey, this is how I feel. Count my vote."

Saying, "My husband wrote an amicus brief in this case" has about as much significance as saying, "My husband thinks that the administration is wrong here."

Is Prof. Adler married? If so, must he disclose for whom his wife voted in the last election when blogging about a political candidate? If his wife worked on a political campaign, would he be required to disclose this?

I sure don't think so.

There are lots of very good reasons to blast the Times. This "failure to disclose," alas, is not a good reason.
1.22.2008 1:22am
Laura S.:
My advice: read the column, read the opinion, then come to your own conclusion about whether read her again.
1.22.2008 2:26am
randal (mail):
Count me with Sk in not caring about minor conflicts of interest of this nature enough to want to see my reading material littered with disclaimers.

I am young enough not to have ever believed in objective journalism, so the disclaimers don't tell me anything I don't already know. Namely, that people (including journalists) have an interest in the things that they write about.

In other words, Whelan's (and Adler's) posts are immature. Feel free to complain about instances of actual bias and misreporting. This is simply a whine. "See! The NYT isn't as objective as they'd like you to believe! Not because of the content but because their process and practices aren't what I want them to be!"
1.22.2008 2:46am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Her husband signed an amicus brief. Big deal. Signing an amicus brief is so much different from representing a live client. Anyone can file an amicus brief. There are even many articles noting that most amicus briefs do nothing other than give special interest groups an opportunity to say: "Hey, this is how I feel. Count my vote."
That's a little misleading. The effectiveness of his involvement isn't the issue; the extent of his involvement is. Her husband didn't just "sign" something like it was a petition passed around outside the grocery store that he stuck his name on. Her husband runs the special interest group.

Saying, "My husband wrote an amicus brief in this case" has about as much significance as saying, "My husband thinks that the administration is wrong here."
Drafting an amicus brief requires a little more effort than merely 'thinking one side is wrong.' Someone who's willing to invest that much time in an issue is a little differently situated than someone who merely expresses an opinion about it.

But the Times has always had special rules for Greenhouse that it doesn't apply to its other reporters.
1.22.2008 3:08am
Hoosier:
David Nieporent: >>But the Times has always had special rules for Greenhouse that it doesn't apply to its other reporters.

I HOPE those rules don't apply to other reporters. It is absolutley scandalous that Greenhouse participated in an abortion rights march in 1989, and yet was repeatedly assigned by the Times to cover abortion rights marches.

This NIMJ issue looks insignificant in comparison. But with the abortion-march issue, one already has a sense of Greenhouse's--and the Times's--sense of "fair play." Perhaps "We Report--We Decide"?
1.22.2008 3:27am
Mike& (mail):
I HOPE those rules don't apply to other reporters. It is absolutley scandalous that Greenhouse participated in an abortion rights march in 1989, and yet was repeatedly assigned by the Times to cover abortion rights marches.


So people who buy guns can't write about gun purchasing?

What is the principle for "conflicts of interest" that you propose?
1.22.2008 3:32am
Mike& (mail):
That's a little misleading. The effectiveness of his involvement isn't the issue; the extent of his involvement is. Her husband didn't just "sign" something like it was a petition passed around outside the grocery store that he stuck his name on. Her husband runs the special interest group.


Dozens of special interest groups file amicus briefs in "political" types of cases. Filing an amicus brief is usually a non-event. Filing a brief is simply a way to state that one feels strong about an issue. Well, spouses feel strongly about all sorts of issues.

Let's say he husband wrote a law review article stating the same position he made in his amicus brief. Is this something she'd need to disclose?

What about a blog post?

What is the principle you propose? What must be disclosed under your proposed rule?
1.22.2008 3:40am
Kazinski:
I think the issue is that Greenburg's husband feels strongly enough about the issues to head an organization that is spending a lot and time and effort to try and sway the Supreme Court. Greenburg writes for a newspaper that has been known to have and affect on public debates and helps set the public agenda. Her reporting on the court could very well be helpful in pushing her husbands viewpoint in the case.

Does that mean she is guilty of some ethical violation. No. But it would be helpful if the NY Times disclosed the connection. If it is the paper of record, the record should be complete.
1.22.2008 3:53am
randal (mail):
Way to bring abortion into the debate, Hoosier.

Hey guess what. Journalists are allowed to have opinions, and also: they do.

Do you want journalists to disclose all of the opinions that they (and their spouses, friends) hold that a (combative) reader might think potentially relevant (as partisan ammo)? Inline in the article?

That's totally crazy. If you believe that, you are crazy. If you don't believe that, then you are lame for trying to spin this non-issue into the "liberal media" narrative.
1.22.2008 4:37am
Brian K (mail):
ed whelan complains of other people's "conflicts of interest" while completely ignoring his own. in this article (also linked to by jonathan adler above) he cites peter berkowitz of the ethics and public policy center as some objective source of greenhouse's bias. what he forgets to mention in the article is that he is the president of that center.
1.22.2008 4:46am
Brian K (mail):
whoops...hit post too soon

He says that the Times "should systematically disclose more" information about its reporters' conflicts, but he thinks that the website biographies are the place for such disclosures. If disclosure is an appropriate remedy for conflicts of interest, readers will be sure of receiving that disclosure only if it accompanies the very article that presents the conflict.

if whelan doesn't think website biographies are enough, why doesn't he disclose his own conflicts in each of his articles?
1.22.2008 4:48am
one of many:
urm Brian with regards to your 4:48 post the article by Whelen says " a September 2006 book review by law professor Peter Berkowitz (who, I'm pleased to note, is on the policy advisory board of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the institute I head)", the same as it did about 20 mins after M. Alder linked to it. I cannot be sure this was in the article (sic) prior to then, but it was certainly in the article when I looked at it around 10:50.
1.22.2008 5:09am
tarheel:
Greenhouse deserves all the criticism she got for taking an active role in the abortion issue while reporting on it in the Supreme Court. It's a troubling standard, though, to force someone to not report on issues his/her spouse is involved in. Disclosure is fine, but disqualification? My politics are quite different from my wife's, as is the case in many marriages I know.

Haven't done the research, but can I assume that Whelen was equally exercised when Scalia didn't recuse himself from the energy task force case despite spending the weekend hunting with Cheney while the case was pending?
1.22.2008 6:13am
alias:
This doesn't seem like a big deal to me. Greenhouse's writing's already biased enough that this is just a drop in the bucket. Seriously, is anyone shocked by this? Does it change the anyone will read her articles going forward?

As for the shots against Whelan, does NR make any pretenses about being objective? Has Whelan ever said that he's a "just the facts" guy for the NR?
1.22.2008 6:26am
Sk (mail):
"SK, no one is suggesting that the NY Times can't be an advocate for whatever it chooses. They should just be honest about it instead of pretending that they are being objective (or as objective as is humanly possible.)"

Why? If their goal is to sell newspapers, and they can sell more newspapers by pretending to be honest, why wouldn't they pretend to be honest?

"SK, no one is suggesting that the NY Times can't be an advocate for whatever it chooses. They should just be honest about it instead of pretending that they are being objective (or as objective as is humanly possible.)"

But what if pretending to be objective makes them a more effective advocate?

In a debate, you could score points by quoting facts. You could also score points by making stuff up that sounds like facts.

Do you really believe, in the debate over US policy, journalists (and in particular, journalists at the New York Times) are willing to forgo making stuff up in order to score points in the debate?

Think of it as theatre; NYT pretends to be objective. National Review pretends to be outraged when they are clearly not objective. Both are attempting to score points in the debate.

I think Randal gets it. You are all presuming journalists are, deep down inside, searching for philosophic 'truth,' and occassionally fail to achieve it. Its a very naive view of the world. Don't imagine that journalists are Socrates-realize that, deep down inside, they are James Carville - then you will understand.

Sk
1.22.2008 7:05am
hawkins:
Conflict of interest alert - Bill Clinton advocated voting for Hillary Clinton for President and did not explicitly disclose that she's his wife.
1.22.2008 8:07am
Temp Guest (mail):
Does a bear sh*t in the woods?
1.22.2008 9:04am
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
The New York Times has taken a stronger position than her husband, and the Times is her employer! Sounds like a conflict of interest to me....
1.22.2008 9:07am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I assume in the future Jonathon will attach his resume, disclosing all memberships in organizations he belongs to along with those of all relatives (to first cousins should be enough), for each and every post he writes.

Did you know Andrea Mitchell was married to Alan Greenspan?
1.22.2008 9:13am
titus32:
I assume in the future Jonathon will attach his resume, disclosing all memberships in organizations he belongs to along with those of all relatives (to first cousins should be enough), for each and every post he writes.

Why do you assume this? I realize you're resorting to a common rhetorical device, but I don't see your logic.
1.22.2008 9:30am
Aultimer:
And what exactly is the indicia that a media outlet is "objective" versus "opinion"? I don't know of any de facto or de jure standard.

It seems most content in newspapers are held to the objective standard (even if owned by Murdoch), and "columnists" are the exception. But where's the line for other media - in TV the spectrum goes from CSPAN, to evening news, to Meet the press, to Tucker Carlson/Olberman, to Limbaugh/Stewart? And what about news magazines and blogs?
1.22.2008 9:31am
alkali (mail):
It takes an exquisitely tuned ethical sensibility to be more outraged by a potential conflict of interest at the New York Times than by secret military tribunals in offshore prisons.
1.22.2008 9:48am
Prufrock765 (mail):
Aultimer and others:
One index maybe what the outlet itself says about its mission.
I am perfectly prepared to accept along with all the other harrumphing jades that NYT is no more "objective" than NRO or NPR.
But does the NYT stipulate to this? If not, then we have at least the basis for discussion, if not complaint.
That being said, everyone who cares about the Court knows about Greenhouse and the "Greenhouse effect" and that she marched in that pro-choice parade. We can read her with that background in mind.
And, given all that, this recent matter regarding her husband strikes me as a tempest, if not in a teapot, then in a kiddie pool.
1.22.2008 9:59am
Bad (mail) (www):
"It's a troubling standard, though, to force someone to not report on issues his/her spouse is involved in."

How about to be a judging rule on cases that directly impact the finances of an immediate family member? Or on a case where an immediate family member is employed the firm on one side of the case?
1.22.2008 10:14am
frankcross (mail):
Of course the NYT is more objective than NRO, though maybe not NPR. This has been empirically studied and demonstrated. Some columnists at the NYT, such as Krugman, are every bit as ideologically biased, but the paper as a whole is not.

Whelan is writing an opinion column and can claim bias, but it seems irrational for anyone to credit his claims of "bias." Because he is a very biased observer. It's like a basketball fan complaining about the refs; that fan is not credible because he his biased. Same with Whelan. He's throwing red meat to the people who want to confirm their own biases, which I find unfortunate.
1.22.2008 11:19am
DangerMouse:
Of course the NYT is more objective than NRO, though maybe not NPR.

Bwahahahaha! If the NYT said the grass was green, you'd have to double check because it'd be the one time they actually printed something true.

"This has been empirically studied and demonstrated."

Sure. By liberal democrats in ivory tower universities. Do you seriously think that sort of appeal to authority works here?
1.22.2008 11:28am
Mike& (mail):
Greenburg writes for a newspaper that has been known to have and affect on public debates and helps set the public agenda. Her reporting on the court could very well be helpful in pushing her husbands viewpoint in the case.

I imagine you think the following conversation occurred: "Hey, hubby. I'm going to use my little job at the Times to promote your viewpoints. It's not like I'm concerned with my own career or have my own viewpoints. Smooches."

That is really just hilarious to me.

Now, if Greenhouse wrote an article about NIMJ, then I'd agree that she'd need to disclose her husband's relationship with the organization. But she did not write an article about NIMJ.

Rather, she wrote an article about a case that NIMJ has a viewpoint on.

Is it really that difficult to see the attenuation?
1.22.2008 11:33am
frankcross (mail):
DangerMouse, the most recent study was by conservatives (Groseclose &Milyo). It didn't study NRO directly, but are you aware that NRO has any liberal postings? While the NYT cited considerable conservative auhorities. And your post illustrates precisely my point about the biased commenting on supposed bias of others.
1.22.2008 11:56am
Hoosier:
MIKE&-->>So people who buy guns can't write about gun purchasing?

That's not a comparable case. I ddin't say that someone who has HAD an abortion cannot write on abortion. But if someone who covered the gun issue for the NYT was also marching in support of the NRA, I would want that disclosed, and quite clearly.

randal-->>Way to bring abortion into the debate, Hoosier

That remark makes no attempt to address my concern, so I'm not clear why you would respond to me at all. But if your point is that abortion is an issue that cannot raise conflict-of-interest issues for journalists, you will need to make that case.

tarheel-->>Greenhouse deserves all the criticism she got for taking an active role in the abortion issue while reporting on it in the Supreme Court. It's a troubling standard, though, to force someone to not report on issues his/her spouse is involved in (etc.)

Ahh. Now /that's/ what the voice of reason sounds like. The knee-jerk defense of Greenhouse by some on this thread has me disturbed. Why should a reporter not make clear her participation in political activism, /if/ the issue involved is an issue that she covers? But when it comes to a spouse, the case is different. Exception: An issue involves, say, a large amount of potential settlement money to the spouse that could go into joint holdings.
1.22.2008 12:02pm
Hoosier:
alkali-->>It takes an exquisitely tuned ethical sensibility to be more outraged by a potential conflict of interest at the New York Times than by secret military tribunals in offshore prisons.

I rely heavily on the Times for coverage of just those issues. I can't form any opionion about events if I can't trust the conduit of information regarding those events. So the Times--as all reporting media--need to be held to a high standard. Why is that even up for debate? Even if you consider the Greenhouse case insignificant, a possible conflict of interest that might affect NYT reporting is, in general, a serious issue.
1.22.2008 12:08pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Funny they should bring this up. It shows you don't have to have an interested spouse to display bias at the New York Times:

I HOPE those rules don't apply to other reporters. It is absolutley scandalous that Greenhouse participated in an abortion rights march in 1989, and yet was repeatedly assigned by the Times to cover abortion rights marches.

So people who buy guns can't write about gun purchasing?

What is the principle for "conflicts of interest" that you propose? But if someone who covered the gun issue for the NYT was also marching in support of the NRA, I would want that disclosed, and quite clearly.

The NYT has run several purported news articles reflecting its anti-gun bias. One written by Fox Butterfield sticks in my mind: The topic was mass murder in America. I looked for the first one I remember, the massacre of eight student nurses by Richard Speck, but Fox had omitted it. Curious, I checked the time line: yes, Fox had covered mass murders before Speck's. Then I checked the numbers: yes, Fox included mass murders with even fewer that eight victims. Then it dawned on me: the weapon! Speck had used a benign knife, not an evil firearm. That's why his massacre of student nurses was not worthy of acknowledgement by the Times.
1.22.2008 1:15pm
Connie:
So when is Adler going to weigh in on the controversy about the newest elected member of Wisconsin's supreme court? Annette Zeigler, as a judge in a lower court, ruled on several default judgment cases involving a bank on whose board of directors her husband sat. She did not disclose, saying any effect on her family's financial situation was minimal, and/or she "forgot" about the need to say something to the parties involved. Now the issue is, what's the appropriate reprimand. Her new colleagues on the state supreme court will have to decide, as the voters elected her anyway.
1.22.2008 1:21pm
Brian K (mail):
one of many,

you're right. that's what i get for skimming the article at nearly 5am.
1.22.2008 1:38pm
randal (mail):
Hoosier again:

I didn't say that someone who has HAD an abortion cannot write on abortion. But if someone who covered the gun issue for the NYT was also marching in support of the NRA, I would want that disclosed, and quite clearly.

As Sk puts it, this is incredibly naive and probably counterproductive. What possible motivation could there be for this distinction? A journalist can hold opinions which are likely to bias them. They can even act on those opinions. They just can't express them (outside of their reporting).

Huh?

Isn't the whole point of disclosure to inform readers of the potential biases of the reporter? How you you be informed of those biases if they are not allowed to be expressed? It's it a better thing, in the end, for Greenhouse to have marched in an abortion parade than not? Having marched doesn't change her opinion on the subject, but it does make it public knowledge.

You guys have a pretty twisted, heads-in-the-sand view of conflict-of-interest. At least when it comes to promoting the personal destruction of those left-of-center.
1.22.2008 3:04pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"But one thing as a newspaperman I'm sure of is that knee-jerk conflicts are baloney."

You're probably right. But so many newspapermen make such a big deal out of such things when it happens to other pople, it's fun to stick it to them when the opportunity arises.
1.22.2008 3:33pm
Dave N (mail):
Did you know Andrea Mitchell was married to Alan Greenspan?
Yes (and they are still married).

If Andrea Mitchell's beat was the Federal Reserve, then it would make sense to either somehow disclose the conflict or assign someone else.

Using NBC as an example, when Meredith Viera's husband, Richard M. Cohen's latest book came out, Viera herself identified the conflict as part of the touchy-feely story Today ran on his book (and as a separate note, Richard M. Cohen is not the Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen).

In my state, a very high profile education official also owns one of the local television stations. When this official is mentioned, the station also carefully notes as part of the story that there is a conflict and what it is.

I am certainly not advocating muzzling Linda Greenhouse or anyone else, but particularly in print media it would not have been too hard to put in something like this at the end of the article: On this case, Linda Greenhouse's husband wrote an amicus curiae brief for the National Institute of Criminal Justice.
1.22.2008 3:39pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As Sk puts it, this is incredibly naive and probably counterproductive. What possible motivation could there be for this distinction? A journalist can hold opinions which are likely to bias them. They can even act on those opinions. They just can't express them (outside of their reporting).
Regardless of whether you like this rule, it's the New York Times' own rule. They just failed to apply it in the Greenhouse case.
1.22.2008 3:46pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Elliott, you might not believe it, but lots of reporters and editors are alive to this issue. And lots aren't.

That's what happens when the entry threshold is painted on the floor.

We argue and consult about these issues all the time, and there's nothing like consensus.

So Hoosier sez: 'So the Times--as all reporting media--need to be held to a high standard.'

By whom?

Well, by the subscribers.

Although, I don't put much stock in people who announce that [newspaper] is an unreliable [right][left]wing rag that distorts every story. It's a pretty safe bet that they aren't looking for objectivity or fair treatment of stories. Furthest thing from their minds, actually.

If you had to inhabit a newsroom, you'd soon learn that the hottest charge of bias in every city is over which high school sports team the paper maliciously favors.
1.22.2008 4:46pm
Hoosier:
randal--
"It's it a better thing, in the end, for Greenhouse to have marched in an abortion parade than not? Having marched doesn't change her opinion on the subject, but it does make it public knowledge."

How about an editor making a decidion that a writer is too invested in a cause to report it according to rules of objectivity set by the newspaper? The Times has other reporters, of course. She can have opinions and commitments. But let's be honest: Would you think a reporter who volunteers for, say, Romney's campaign is the person best suited to report on the GOP presidential race? Or would you, as editor, find someone who was not so closely tied to a particular campaign, if you had the resources to do so? Let's be reasonable.

"You guys have a pretty twisted, heads-in-the-sand view of conflict-of-interest. At least when it comes to promoting the personal destruction of those left-of-center."

Your sarcastic comment about me "introducing abortion," now this presupposition? I'm not a right-winger, pal. So take it somewhere else.
1.22.2008 4:46pm
Alex Blackwell (mail):
Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick weigh in with a piece at Slate.
1.22.2008 7:21pm
randal (mail):
Hoosier then:

It is absolutley scandalous that Greenhouse participated in an abortion rights march in 1989, and yet was repeatedly assigned by the Times to cover abortion rights marches.

Hoosier now:

How about an editor making a decision that a writer is too invested in a cause to report it according to rules of objectivity set by the newspaper? The Times has other reporters, of course. She can have opinions and commitments.

It's gone from "absolutely scandalous" to your disagreement with an editor's subjective call, made in the context of the editor's own policy, as to who on the staff is best suited to cover a subject, based on your supposition that "the Times has other reporters."

And you're on my case about invective style!
1.22.2008 8:42pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Would it matter if the spouse of a Justice of the SC filed an amicus brief before the court?
1.22.2008 11:35pm
Hoosier:
randal--You're whistling past the graveyard now. Think about it: One choice is ethical, and the other is scandalous. Which should the Times have chosen? THAT is my question.

>>based on your supposition that "the Times has other reporters."

And they don't? Then who are those people with all those by-lines? Hmm? Now you're just being silly.

>>And you're on my case about invective style!

Yes. And now about non-responsive responses as well.
1.23.2008 12:11am
gr (www):
LewRockwell

"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis"

American Thinker


"Whenever this issue [compensatory treatment] is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree, but should ask for nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man enters the starting line of a race three hundred years after another man, the second would have to perform some incredible feat in order to catch up."
1.23.2008 12:54am
Harry Eagar (mail):
gr, what is the point of the 2 links?

And are you endorsing this bizarre statement by Epstein: ' Both King's public stands and personal behavior makes the comparison between King and the Religious Right questionable.'
1.23.2008 11:32am
Alex Blackwell (mail):
More from Slate, including Walter Dellinger.
1.23.2008 6:33pm