Losing Its Religion: The New York Times Compromises

Two things that would end hypocrisy and make the world a better place: Priests should be allowed to get married, and the New York Times should update its Ethics Policy.

The venerable and vulnerable newspaper finally starts talking about the “Pogue Problem” out loud to its readers. For years David Pogue has covered Apple (and other tech companies). And for years he has been authoring books on Apple products. He doesn’t get paid by Apple for the books, but his bias is clear and he has been accused to conflicts of interest more than once by other mainstream media. Dan Lyons has a very funny take on the whole story which is worth reading.

If you have any doubt about Pogue’s opinion of Apple, this should clear it up.

We actually celebrate this kind of behavior, as long as it’s disclosed to readers. But the New York Times has a different standard, and Pogue’s reporting is a clear violation of their Policy on Ethics in Journalism, in my opinion:

Though this topic defies firm rules, it is essential that we preserve professional detachment, free of any hint of bias. Staff members may see sources informally over a meal or drinks, but they must keep in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship. A city editor who enjoys a weekly round of golf with a city council member, for example, risks creating an appearance of coziness. So does a television news producer who spends weekends in the company of people we cover. Scrupulous practice requires that periodically we step back and look at whether we have drifted too close to sources with whom we deal regularly. The test of freedom from favoritism is the ability to maintain good working relationships with all parties to a dispute.

The NY Times generally self-regulates. If you’re too close to a source, you need to “step back” and evaluate your writing and “must be especially wary of showing partiality.” Of course, we think it’s best to show your partiality instead of hiding it, tell readers your relationships and then let them decide. Pogue’s bias is obvious, and we have no issue with it.

But we do take issue with the NY Times preaching about ethics when they continue to engage in the same behavior, sans disclosure.

The NY Times ethics policy also says “When we first use facts originally reported by another news organization, we attribute them.” But in our experience that isn’t always the case.

The one thing the NY Times has is its brand and its people. They aren’t first to stories but they generally get things right. Trying to hide conflicts of interest hurts that brand, particularly when they hide, hypocritically, behind an ethics statement that prohibits the behavior they’re hiding. It’s far better to keep everything in the open. Transparency is what’s important, not appearances.