26 March 2007

Reporting on Slime, and Slipping

Yes, that headline might sound like I'm rather desperate for readers. But there's a real story here, and one worth following. Those of you who have followed me here from blog-spot know that I've become interested in the travails of a former New York Times reporter, Kurt Eichenwald. In December 2005, the Times ran an Eichenwald story about how a teenager who was drawn into the world of gay internet porn and prostitution. The series of events Eichenwald described began when the boy, Justin Berry, was just 13. The first time I blogged about Eichenwald it was a review of a book of his about some scandalously high-pressure marketing by securities salesmen who worked at Prudential. they sold very high-risk products to the market as if they were secure retirement-oriented savings plans. http://cfaille.blog-city.com/serpent_on_the_rock.htm That, I think, was a good book and a fine example of what Eichenwald was good at. He wrote similar books about a price-fixing conspiracy and about the collapse of Enron. But I think we can say without doing an injustice that his judgment in pursuing a rather different sort of story, about Justin Berry and his abusers, has not been impeccable. He paid Berry a $2,000 check at one point. The Times has a policy against paying for sources (in general a very good policy idea) -- and Eichenwald has defended this payment/loan (Berry's family subsequently re-paid it) on the ground that it wasn't made qua reporter but qua human being. In other words, Eichenwald felt touched by Berry's situation and wanted to give him some "clean money" that would help him break withhis associates and start a new life that didn't involve showing nude movies of himself on the internet.

Here is his former employer's ombudsman's latest take on it: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/opinion/25pubed.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

At the NY Times, by the way, the position known everywhere else as an "ombudsman" is called a "public editor." What they think they gain by a unique nomenclature there isn't clear to me. Regardless: Byron Calame has the post, and he's unhappy with Eichenwald. He said the reporter misled his editors on the subject of that payment.

Also, he's unimpressed by the distinction between Eichenwald's capacity as a journalist and as a private person touched by a humanitarian need. "Times journalists are free to do many things as private citizens, such as donating money to a struggling charity in their community. But they can’t then simply turn the switch to 'journalist' and do a story about that charity; that assignment must go to another reporter."

A decent point. But we need to keep our minds on a couple of simpler points here. There's been no credible challenge to the facts of the story that Eichenwald obtained through Berry's assistance. And, as a result of that story, three sexual predators have been incarcerated.


Anonymous said...

OK Chris, all of you professional journalists have a hard time getting the point, and the Times, for whatever reason, is just playing with the boil on its backside, rather than lancing and draining it.

What the story boils down to is:

June 9, 2005: Justin Berry receives $2000 from Kurt Eichenwald.

June 19, 2005: Justin Berry reactivates his dormant site "justinsfriends.com" and goes back into the web porn business.

Simple enough?

Anonymous said...

So what do you think of your main man Kurt now that it's been revealed he's paid yet more money to Justin Berry?

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.