Shafer: What's the big deal about Nocera's fiancee's job?
Slate’s Jack Shafer doesn’t see anything wrong with the fact that the fiancee of New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera is the head of communications for a New York law firm involved in a lawsuit that Nocera wrote about in his Sunday column.
Shafer writes, “Although reported out nicely, it’s a subjective document, written in the first person. It’s the sum total of what Nocera thinks about the subject. Almost by definition, such a piece is going to be slanted and biased in the direction of what Nocera thinks is true. And, to drive a 10-penny nail through this Editors’ Note, slants, biases, and prejudices are exactly what Nocera’s editors want him to contribute to the paper. It’s almost his job description! It makes no sense to police his work based on where his fiancee draws a paycheck.
“If Nocera (and Times editors) really believe that he should have recused himself from the case because of his fiancee’s employment status, does that mean that he should recuse himself from writing about all Boies, Schiller & Flexner clients? If I ran a big company and wanted to avoid Nocera’s gaze — which, considering his brilliance, would be an excellent idea — I’d put Boies, Schiller & Flexner on some sort of small retainer so it could serve as a prophylactic. Under the Times‘ ethics policy, my company would be treated to an automatic bye as long as Nocera remains engaged or married to that Boies, Schiller & Flexner employee.
“Like other veteran journalists, Nocera can’t walk his beat without constantly bumping into people he owes favors or people who owe him, people who hate him or love him, and people who want to see him succeed or see him fail. This is where the Times policy backfires. Consistently enforced, it would deprive readers of Nocera’s intelligence whenever his personal life has bumped into his professional life, which is to say: all over the place. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Nocera occupy an ethics-free zone in which he receives payoffs from the companies he writes about. But holy Moses! Ethics should serve journalism instead of journalism serving ethics.”
Read more here.