Bench Memos

Unfit to Print?

Many thanks to Ed Whelan for giving them the vapors over at the New York Times.  He is more than a match for Linda Greenhouse, her editors Dean Baquet, Jill Abramson, and Bill Keller, their shill Clark Hoyt (the alleged “readers’ representative” who thinks reader Whelan is the problem), and Greenhouse’s defenders Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick.  If Ed were the “bully” Clark Hoyt takes him for, he wouldn’t be so obviously winning this argument.  (If you haven’t kept up with this tale, Andy McCarthy’s article today will lead you to the relevant stuff.)

For me this whole contretemps is perfectly simple and easily resolved.  I tend to view “conflict of interest” in pretty strict terms, focusing on what tangible benefit a decision-maker or (in this case) a journalist would reap from a decision coming out a certain way, or a story being reported a certain way.  If no such benefit can be imagined–no conflict.  But the trouble with Greenhouse’s reporting on Guantanamo-related cases, in which her husband Eugene Fidell has taken an active part as an amicus curiae advocate, is that knowing of his activities leads to a suspicion of bias in her reporting–and bias and conflict of interest, while closely related, are not identical.  Or one might say that knowing of Fidell’s activities leads to strengthening of such a suspicion where his wife’s work is concerned, since there is ample evidence on the face of Greenhouse’s whole career that she brings to her work a strong bias in favor of liberal activist outcomes on the Supreme Court.  (The very first article I ever published at NRO was in part concerned with this well-known fact about Greenhouse.)

So what’s the resolution?  Since mere bias is not a “conflict of interest” here but stems from a cause other than actual interest (namely ideology), I wouldn’t ask that Greenhouse be driven off the Supreme Court beat, or even “recuse” herself from every case in which Fidell becomes involved.  Transparency should be the byword at the newspaper that prides itself on “all the news that’s fit to print.”  Not in online biographies, as Clark Hoyt feebly suggests (sounding like that diffident sheep mildly coughing on a distant hillside, as P.G. Wodehouse would put it).  In every story Greenhouse files on every case in which Fidell or his “National Institute of Military Justice” is involved, print something like this, perhaps at the end, and suitably adapted to each such instance: “This reporter’s husband, Eugene R. Fidell, is a legal activist who has filed an amicus brief in the Boumediane case opposed to the government’s position.”

Just print it.  How hard is that?  Then readers of the Times have all they need to know and can make up their own minds.  Such a statement doesn’t punish or humiliate Greenhouse.  It simply discloses.  It’s simply . . . honest.

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