Examining a conflict of interest
Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, writes Sunday about business columnist Joe Nocera, who wrote a column last month about a lawsuit involving the new Hewlett-Packard CEO without realizing that his fiancee’s law firm was involved in the suit.
Brisbane writes, “I believe Joe Nocera when he says he didn’t know his fiancée was working for Oracle’s lawyer. But his decision to go on CNBC was a mistake, and as a result, the story took on another life. Then a week and a half later, The Times missed a chance in the Bits blog to cite the Editors’ Note. There is a significant difference, in my mind, between saying The Times acknowledges the conflict and saying, as the blog post did, that SAP’s lawyers cited the conflict. The Times not only needs to be aboveboard, it needs to appear aboveboard when problems of this magnitude emerge.
“So, yes, it is very hard to un-write a story. But, in this case, The Times and its columnist could have done more to be accountable for the problem and, if not un-write the story, stop it in its tracks.
“A reasonable approach now would be to re-report the story — as a straight news account, not as a news-page column — and let the new story stand as a foundation for future Times coverage of the Oracle suit and Mr. Apotheker’s role in it.”
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