James Rainey of the L.A. Times:
I was dogging the New York Times and star columnist Thomas Friedman last week for lack of transparency after it was revealed that Friedman received $75,000 for speaking to a Northern California air quality district.
Friedman ended up giving the money back to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District because the newspaper’s ethics guidelines prohibit journalists from taking speaking payments from anything other than nonprofits and educational institutions. That means fees from government agencies are verboten.
Friedman wouldn’t talk, so I didn’t get to ask him if he would be willing to disclose the payments from his other appearances. I’m told the “World Is Flat” author gets paid for roughly one speaking engagement a month. If he received his standard $75,000 fee for each, that would be $900,000 in outside income a year.
Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis treated me like the skunk at the garden party when I asked her whether Timespeople like Friedman should tell the public, in detail, about that income.
Shouldn’t readers be informed if, for example, a foundation that supports bullet trains paid a hefty speaking fee to a transportation reporter?
This afternoon the New York Times acknowledged (in a fashion) that it needed to tighten (at least a bit) its internal oversight of outside commitments.