The Corner

Conflict of Interest at The Times

I loved Andy’s piece on the Times today and I offer a blanket endorsement of all sentiments and observations therein. But I think he missed one of the most significant examples of the Times refusing to apply its conflict-of-interest standards to itself. Or at least it’s my favorite example (if my Dad were around, I have no doubt he would list another fifty). In 2003 The New York Times — which still claims to be the hometown paper of New York City — came out in favor of the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees. I wrote about it here (in one of my favorite columns, btw). The relevant excerpt:

Second, it should be familiar news to everyone that the New York Times is a leader of full-disclosure fanaticism. The Times has — often rightly — gone after politicians, corporate executives, journalists, and other publications for failing fully to disclose their conflicts of interest. The Times has tsk-tsked medical journals about how they permit scientists with commercial ties to the pharmaceutical industry to contribute their findings. They skewered Reagan- and Clinton-administration members alike for what they deemed to be outrageous conflicts of interest. They are one of the culture’s leading advocates of the view that the appearance of a conflict can disqualify a public servant from doing his work just as much as an actual conflict.

Fair enough. That’s their view and it’s even often correct. But how the Times could have failed to inform readers that they are part owners of the Boston Red Sox is beyond me. Their website boasts the fact that Business Ethics Magazine listed the Times as one of the top 100 corporate citizens in 2003, but for some reason the Times’s editors couldn’t mention that they partially own the Red Sox and Fenway Park too?

I have no doubt that the editors of the Times were working from “warm sentiment” alone, but that does not erase the appearance of a conflict, now, does it?

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