Read it and Weep
NYT Editor Patrick Lyons Cries “Libel” but Has He Read Own Ethics Code?
By Al Giordano
January 27, 2003
”I weep for a profession so infused with people willing to advance strident opinions about a document they plainly have not read… The New York Times’s ethics guidelines…”
- Patrick Lyons
International Business Editor
The New York Times
January 20, 2003 (Letter to MediaNews)
“It’s no small task, being the paper of record, but such pronouncements as ‘journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics’ can seem as disingenuous as they are well intentioned.”
- Nick Paumgarten
The New Yorker
January 20, 2003
“…Venezuela’s private media… decided that political activism is much more fun than, y’know, actually reporting. Of course, I also decided that too….”
- Francisco Toro
Former NY Times Reporter
January 25, 2003 (from his weblog)
The International Business Editor of the mighty New York Times has lowered himself to sniping at little old me.
That often happens when people have matters to hide, or that they want to silence.
I suppose, that in the Bible story, Goliath’s composure wasn’t much better than that of Patrick J. Lyons when the slingshot delivered the news.
Here’s what provoked the NY Times International Business Editor to write to Narco News:
On January 14th, a little bird had told me that Lyons had claimed that my report of that day, “New York Times Reporter Quits over Conflict of Interest,” was “false and libelous.”
But the little bird, when asked to sing a more detailed melody, could only cite one disagreement with my story voiced by the Timesman: My characterization of Francisco Toro as a New York Times “correspondent.” He sang something about “Timespeak” having a different definition of the word “correspondent” than the rest of humanity. We’ll get to that: A difference in terms between how two distinct media organizations define the word “correspondent” sure ain’t a “libel.” In any case, my report had explained exactly what Toro’s correspondence work at the New York Times entailed. Still, my Authentic Journalist’s heart goes all pitter-patter at the mere thought of putting on my pro se law cleats again for a worthy battle…
So I wrote to NY Times editor Lyons on the night of January 14, and I also left a message on his voice mail, to ask him to tell me exactly what was supposedly “libelous.”
I wrote to Lyons:
“I have heard rumors that you consider my story this morning about Francisco Toro’s resignation to be somehow false or ‘libelous.’ Is that true, Patrick? To my knowledge, it is not… I challenge you to back up your claims, or to correct them. It’s what an authentic journalist would do.”
On January 15th, Lyons wrote me back. Not surprisingly, he failed to meet my challenge. Instead he was reduced to apoplectically calling my piece a “defamatory screed” in an attempt to keep me quiet.
I suppose his behavior was not surprising given his apparent violation of the New York Times code of ethics, which I’m sure he doesn’t want debated in public. He repeated the allegation but, although he’d been challenged to substantiate his claim, he merely stonewalled, tried to send me to a corporate flak, and failed to meet the challenge.
Anyway, kind reader, you can view his email in its entirety…
From: “Patrick J. Lyons”
To: “Alberto M. Giordano”
Subject: Re: To Pat Lyons from Al Giordano
Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 10:54:53 -0500
Requests for information or comment from The New York Times should be directed to our vice president for corporate communications, Catherine Mathis, at (212) 556-1981.
Questions about whether a defamatory screed posted on the Internet with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity is libelous should be directed to a competent lawyer.
Patrick J. Lyons
International Business Editor
The New York Times
Wow. That’s the first nasty “call your lawyer” message I’ve gotten since kicking Banamex-Citigroup and the Akin Gump law firm’s butts in the New York Supreme Court on December 5, 2001.
Does this mean I get to go up against Floyd Abrams next time?
It’s not every day I get a crank message from the bowels of 43rd Street and, Kind Reader, I think you should be in on my response. This is just too special an exchange to deny it the sunlight it deserves.
So, here it is: My response to a powerful business editor at the NY Times, about libel, journalist ethics, truth, fact, and his own adherence – or not – to the New York Times’ own stated ethics policies for editors and reporters.
To: Patrick J. Lyons
International Business Editor
The New York Times
From: Al Giordano
The Narco News Bulletin
CC: Howell Raines, The New York Times firstname.lastname@example.org
William E. Schmidt, The New York Times email@example.com
Philip Taubman, The New York Times firstname.lastname@example.org
Cynthia Cotts, The Village Voice
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post
Dan Kennedy, The Boston Phoenix
Ken Layne, The LA Examiner
Roy Carson, Vheadline.com
Danny Schechter, The Media Channel
Students and Faculty of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism
James Romenesko, Media News
Bill Mitchell, The Poynter Institute
Permission granted to reprint this story to any publication if the text is reproduced uncensored, in full, including all links, and also includes the introduction to this letter that appears on Narco News.
Thank you for recommending me to your company’s PR flak. But to my knowledge, Catherine Mathis hasn’t been running around crying “libel.” I haven’t heard about her making any unsubstantiated statements, like you, nor have any little birds sung her name to me. She hasn’t sought to bully smaller media organizations to shun my work based on false claims of “libel.” This is, so far, a matter between you and me.
If you think you’ve been libeled by a “defamatory screed posted on the Internet,” you should by all means sue me.
I’ve spoken with one of my lawyers – myself; he works for me pro bono – and my pro se attorney says we don’t even want to wait for trial. We’re going to ask you, Mister Lyons, to step up on the witness stand right now.
My pro se lawyer – I say immodestly – is a pretty seasoned barrister, Patrick. He had some excellent help from even more seasoned attorneys Tom Lesser and Marty Garbus, as well as amicus briefs from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reber Boult, Esq., but he was, after all, one of the counselors who argued, motioned, and won a landmark First Amendment case in the New York Supreme Court not too long ago.
I tell you because perhaps you weren’t aware of that history, since although the story happened in your newspaper’s front yard, the good news of that New York Supreme Court – Manhattan District – precedent wasn’t “fit to print” in The New York Times. Your newspaper’s subsidiary, the Boston Globe, and many other newspapers, reported on this victory for all journalists from afar, but your flagship New York Times was mute to the good news on its doorstep.
That court decision broke the monopoly of the commercial media on First Amendment protections, and extended the press freedom rights under Sullivan v. New York Times to Internet journalists:
“Narco News, its website, and the writers who post information, are entitled to all the First Amendment protections accorded a newspaper-magazine or journalist… Furthermore, the nature of the articles printed on the website and Mr. Giordano’s statements at Columbia University constitute matters of public concern because the information disseminated relates to the drug trade and its affect on people living in this hemisphere…”
– Supreme Court of the State of New York, December 5, 2001
You can read the entire order, Patrick, at:
Now, please raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I, Patrick J. Lyons, do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
Good. Now you may sit down.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I have three exhibits to place into evidence here, and opposing counsel really shouldn’t object. The first is my January 14th story, the one that our witness calls a “defamatory screed.” That will be Exhibit A:
The second important piece of evidence, we’ll call it Exhibit B, tells the story of a very important document at the company where our witness works: the new ethics code at the New York Times:
This very month of January 2003 this book was updated. It’s titled:
“Ethical Journalism: Code of Conduct for the News and Editorial Departments” (January 2003, The New York Times).
Here it is, Ladies and Gentlemen, Exhibit C:
The New York Times has often been called, and indeed many Timesmen have referred to the newspaper as, “The Gray Lady.”
This book, kind jurors, is The Gray Lady’s Bible.
Now, the Gray Lady’s Bible isn’t your Bible, kind jurors, nor is it mine. But it is a sacred text for New York Times writers and editors – from both its fundamentalist and reform sects – and, thus, the adherence – or not – to that codebook by Patrick Lyons and other members of the Times machine tells us a lot about their honesty on other matters. After all, if they can’t follow their own stated rules, what credibility should we lend them?
Now, please turn to page 5, paragraph 10 of the New York Times ethics code. It says:
“Every staff member is expected to read this code carefully and to think about how it might apply to his or her duties. A lack of familiarity with its provisions cannot excuse a violation: to the contrary, it makes it worse.”
Patrick J. Lyons: Did you read this document?
Did you read the previous version?
Has the New York Times had a book like this for the entirety of your career there? It’s a pretty good book, isn’t it? And you’re supposed to familiarize yourself with it, to “read this code carefully” and think about how it might apply to your duties?
Let’s look at page one of Exhibit C, the NY Times ethics code. It begins:
“The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible – ‘without fear or favor,’ in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch – and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and others fairly and openly, and to be seen doing so.”
Patrick, how well does your email response comply with that first order of the codebook? I personally think the code asks a bit much – to treat readers “fairly and openly” (I don’t see any exception clause for pain-in-the-neck muckrakers) – but it is the book that you have to obey as a Times editor. Or not?
Paragraph 1 continues:
“The reputation of The Times rests upon such perceptions, and so do the professional reputations of its staff members. Thus The Times and members of its news department and editorial page staff share an interest in avoiding conflicts of interest or an appearance of conflict.”
The good book then has 154 additional numbered paragraphs more about precisely what constitutes a conflict and how editors, like you, should handle them. But first, Patrick, how does this first paragraph apply to the extracurricular activities of New York Times reporter Francisco Toro?
Now I’d like to bring your attention to a very important passage in Exhibit A. It is the text of an email that appears on the weblog of Francisco Toro, and it is addressed to Patrick J. Lyons, our witness today.
No, you may not have Catherine Mathis or anyone else answer these questions for you, Patrick. Nice try, though. No judge or jury, in my experience, is going to look too kindly on that!
This letter, which Francisco Toro says he wrote to you on January 13, is addressed to you, isn’t it?
He posted it to his website, didn’t he?
Are you familiar with his website? When did he start publishing it? The archives indicate he has published it since last September: Were you aware of that? It wasn’t exactly a state secret. It’s been there for the whole world to see. The website discloses his name and his email address, doesn’t it?
Francisco Toro wrote two stories for your section of the newspaper last November, didn’t he? And that was reported in my article, wasn’t it? My article also spoke of his “brief career” at the New York Times, is that correct Patrick?
Anyway, I’ll pass this letter over to the jury, exactly as it appears on Toro’s website, so they can peruse it….
From “Francisco Toro”
Date Mon, 13 Jan 2003 5:57 PM
To “Patrick J. Lyons”
After much careful consideration, I’ve decided I can’t continue reporting for the New York Times. As I examine the problem, I realize it would take much more than just pulling down my blog to address your conflict of interests concerns. Too much of my lifestyle is bound up with opposition activism at the moment, from participating in several NGOs, to organizing events and attending protest marches. But even if I gave all of that up, I don’t think I could muster the level of emotional detachment from the story that the New York Times demands. For better or for worse, my country’s democracy is in peril now, and I can’t possibly be neutral about that.
I appreciate your understanding throughout this difficult time, and I hope in the future, conditions will allow for me to contribute with the World Business page again.
Now, Patrick, my question about this letter from Toro to you is, first and foremost: How does his “lifestyle bound up with opposition activism at the moment,” his “participating in several NGOs” (that’s Non-Governmental Organizations; he still hasn’t disclosed which), his “organizing events” and his “attending protest marches” stack up in the light of that first rule of the NY
Times ethics code?
Does that, in your view, Patrick, create enough of a conflict of interest to trigger some concern over his reporting from Venezuela? Does it create the “appearance of conflict?” Doesn’t it, in fact, create an actual conflict?
Do you think that a Times reporter complies with your own organization’s rulebook by engaging in those activities?
Now, on to Paragraph 3 of the Gray Lady’s Bible:
“Conflicts of interest, real or apparent, may come up in many areas. They may involve the relationships of staff members with readers, news sources, advocacy groups, advertisers or competitors…”
Patrick: Did Francisco Toro’s act of “participating in several NGOs” or “protest marches” constitute an “apparent” conflict? Or did his behavior constitute a “real” one?
Now, on to Paragraph 5, the first in a section titled “The Scope of this Code.” This is where we find out if the code applies to you, and to Francisco Toro. Paragraph 5 says:
“This code of ethics generally applies to all members of the news and editorial departments whose work directly affects the content of the paper, including those on leaves of absence. They include reporters, editors, editorial writers, photographers, photo editors, art directors, artists, designers, graphic editors and researchers. This group of professional journalists is what this text means by ‘staff’ or ‘staff members.’”
Paragraph 6 further elaborates:
“…no one may do anything that damages the Times’ reputation for strict neutrality in reporting on politics and government; in particular, no one may wear campaign buttons or display any other form of political partisanship while on the job.”
Patrick, have you read Francisco Toro’s weblog?
And as for your song to little birds that reportedly imply that you contest my characterization of Toro as a correspondent: Even in “Timespeak” that technicality wouldn’t get him, or you, off the hook from this ethics code, would it?
Paragraph 7 is instructive:
“Our contracts with freelance contributors require them to avoid conflicts of interest, real or apparent. In keeping with that, they must honor these guidelines in their Times assignments, as set forth in Section 14.”
The aforementioned Section 14 speaks even more clearly about Toro’s necessity – and that of his “assigning editor” – to avoid said conflicts and appearances of conflict, doesn’t it, Patrick?
The NY Times ethics code really doesn’t have any exceptions then for any kind of correspondent: whether staff, freelance or in any other category of “Timespeak,” do I understand that right?
I think I do.
And the Times certainly sounds serious about these points. Paragraph 8 states:
“The Times views any deliberate violation of this code as a serious offense that may lead to disciplinary action, potentially including dismissal, subject to the terms of any applicable collective bargaining agreement.”
Does the Times really mean that, Patrick? Or are these just rules meant to be broken? Is this just window-dressing to light candles to “our patriarch” Adolph Ochs and make the Times look fair and strict about these ethics?
Or does this codebook have any teeth?
Let’s find out.
I mentioned Paragraph 10 before, the one that requires you and all staff members to “read this code carefully.” That paragraph also states:
“Thus we expect staff members to consult with their supervisors and the associate managing editor for news administration or the deputy editorial page editor if they have any doubts about any particular situation or opportunity covered by this code. In most cases an email exchange should suffice.”
Patrick, have you had any such email exchanges regarding the real or apparent conflicts of Francisco Toro? Have you gone to the associate managing editor for news administration to discuss Toro’s “lifestyle of opposition activism”? Did you inform your superiors, in a timely manner, of his participation in “several NGOs”? Did you inform them of his attending “protest marches” on one side of the conflict in Venezuela?
Given that two-months prior to publishing his first story in the New York Times, he had already posted his “activist weblog,” did you ask him about his activism prior to contracting him?
Times correspondent Juan Forero interviewed Toro last September for the Times. Did you do a search in your own newspaper for Toro’s name prior to contracting him?
Was it you who suggested that if Toro simply got rid of his public website that he could continue with his “neutral” New York Times reporting? If not you, who was it?
Paragraph 14 (not to be confused with the soon to come Section 14) states, “We also observe the company’s policies against harassment and on computers and electronic communications which appear on the Web at http://insite.nytco.com/OUR_COMPANY/POLICIES/policies.html.”
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, that page is “in site” at NYT Co. and when I click it I can’t access the page.
So, Patrick, just out of curiously, does that policy about use of nytimes.com email accounts say anything about sending nasty “call your lawyer” letters to readers who write in with questions?
Does it apply to communications with other publications?
Does it apply to pressuring or lobbying a website or publication less powerful than The New York Times to remove a link to our story?
Oh, here, in paragraph 16, there seems to be some language regarding that. It says:
“Civility applies whether an exchange takes place in person, by telephone, by letter or online. Simple courtesy suggests that we not alienate readers by ignoring their letters and emails that warrant reply.”
I appreciate that my email warranted a reply, but what happened to the civility required by your code of ethics?
How about this one, in Paragraph 19:
“Staff members may not threaten to damage uncooperative sources.”
Out of curiosity, was that plank about “not threaten to damage uncooperative sources” in affect in March of 1999 when then-NY Times staff member Sam Dillon called me on the telephone and made that threat that I later referred to in a signed affidavit to the New York Supreme Court?
On to Paragraph 24, which says:
“…staff members who develop close relationships with people who might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise must disclose those relationships to the associate managing editor for news administration or the deputy editorial page editor.”
That paragraph begins with a reference to “romantic involvement” but please explain: Does it apply, say, to “close relationships” with an opposition movement in Venezuela, NGOs or protest marchers who might figure in coverage provided by a NY Times reporter there?
Paragraph 39 is interesting. It says:
“It is an inherent conflict of interest for a Times staff member to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid. Staff members may not advise individuals or organizations how to deal successfully with the news media…”
Did you ever ask Francisco Toro about whether he abided by that rule?
Paragraph 58 gets even more specific on this point. It says:
“Staff members may not collaborate in ventures involving individuals or organizations that figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise or that are likely to figure in such coverage. Among other things, this prohibition applies to collaborating in writing books, pamphlets, reports, scripts, scores or any other material and in making photographs or creating artwork of any kind.”
Patrick, would that kind of venture apply, “among other things,” to opposition activism weblogs in from Caracas, Venezuela?
The prohibitions seem to get more and more strict and explicit with each paragraph. Take Paragraph 62 for example:
“Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics. Staff members are entitled to vote, but they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of The Times. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics.”
Patrick, does that reference to “ballot causes” include calls for referenda or recall votes in Venezuela of the sort that appear frequently on Francisco Toro’s weblog?
Paragraph 65 expressly forbids attending protest marches, doesn’t it? It says:
“Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements, sign ads taking a position on public issues, or lend their name to campaigns, benefit dinners or similar events if doing that might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or The Times’ ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news. Staff members must keep in mind that neighbors and other observers commonly see them as representatives of The Times.”
Does attending “protest marches” trigger that clause? Is there any wiggle-room on that one, Patrick? It seems pretty darn clear, doesn’t it?
Paragraph 66 continues:
“Staff members may appear from time to time on radio and television programs devoted to public affairs, but they should avoid expressing views that go beyond what they would be allowed to say in the paper.”
Patrick, would that clause apply to a statements made on an opposition activist website in Venezuela?
Would it apply to email communications sent from NY Times email accounts?
Would it apply to email communications sent from NY Times email accounts to the publisher of an online newspaper known for publishing letters he receives from hostile parties?
Would the news you’ve now expressed on The Narco News Bulletin “go beyond what (you) would be allowed to say” in the New York Times?
Would this ban on statements not in Timespeak apply to comments like: “Questions about whether a defamatory screed posted on the Internet with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity is libelous should be directed to a competent lawyer”?
Do you think you would ever get a statement like that past the editors and onto the pages of the Times if it were unaccompanied by a single factual dispute over the “screed”?
Paragraph 69 says:
“Staff members may not serve on government boards or commissions, paid or unpaid. They may not join boards of trustees, advisory committees or similar groups except those serving journalistic organizations or otherwise promoting journalism education. Those in doubt about such activities should consult their supervisors and the associate managing editor for news administration or the deputy editorial page editor…”
Patrick, do you have any doubt that Francisco Toro’s self-disclosed participation in NGOs would be a violation of many of these New York Times ethics code rules?
If you did have doubts, did you consult your supervisors and the associate managing editor for news administration?
In the section titled “Speaking for the Times,” this gets more and more interesting. Paragraph 83 states:
“None of these restrictions should be interpreted as barring a staff member from responding openly and honestly to any reasonable inquiry from a reader about that staff member’s work.”
Do you feel you responded “openly and honestly” to my question asking you to substantiate your hollow cry of “libel” in this case?
Why didn’t you state the supposed facts upon which you based that errant and interested opinion?
Is it because there aren’t any facts to back up that statement?
That same paragraph 83 states:
“If a reader asks for a correction, that request should be passed promptly to a supervisor. If the request threatens legal action or appears to be from a lawyer, the complaint should be promptly referred to the legal department through a department head.”
Patrick, does that clause include letters from pro se lawyers?
If a writer invites you to sue him, should you immediately send this correspondence to the legal department? How promptly does “promptly” mean?
Does this “alert the legal department clause” apply to veiled threats of libel suits and nasty “call your lawyer” emails sent from the NY Times Internet accounts?
Have you promptly sent a copy of your correspondence to me to the legal department? Shouldn’t you?
Just for kicks, I’ll ask for a correction of the ethics codebook in evidence today: Shouldn’t there be a correction that says “this book and its rules don’t apply to Patrick J. Lyons or Francisco Toro?”
Now that I’ve suggested that correction, will you promptly pass this letter off to a supervisor? The more sunlight shined upon this matter, the better, right, Patrick?
Paragraph 94, in the section on “Journalistic Work Outside The Times,” specifically addresses work by Timesmen for websites. It says:
“Competitors include any newspaper, magazine or other media of publication, regardless of form, with an editorial focus on either New York City or general-interest news and information. If the competitive status of a publication, Web site or TV production is unclear, a staff member should consult with the associate managing editor for news administration or the deputy editorial page editor.”
Did you consult with the associate managing editor for news administration about Toro’s website? Did he?
Paragraph 98 seems like a perfect match to this point. It says:
“Similarly, staff members who establish their own sites on the World Wide Web must insure that their online conduct conforms to these guidelines.”
And Paragraph 99 says:
“Freelancing might also create a conflict if it identifies a staff member as closely with another publication or Web site as with the Times.”
Do you think, Patrick, that Francisco Toro, even prior to penning his two published articles for The Times last November, was identified “closely with another publication or Web site,” that Web site being his own?
Do you believe his “opposition activism” as expressed on that website “conforms to these guidelines”?
Did it conform at any point during his brief Times career to these ethics guidelines?
Here, again, in Paragraph 102, this point seems so important that it is repeated. It says:
“Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times.”
Is everything you’ve said in email something that could appear under your byline in The Times?
Is everything Francisco Toro has said on his website or in email something that could appear under his byline in The Times?
In the section on “Disclosure of Possible Conflicts,” in Paragraph 108, it says:
“Staff members must be sensitive to these possibilities. Any staff member who sees a potential for conflict or a threat to the paper’s reputation in the activities of spouse, friends or relatives must discuss the situation with his or her supervisor and the associate managing editor for news administration or the deputy editorial page director.”
Patrick, has the associate managing editor for news administration been informed or consulted or kept in the loop on all the real and apparent conflicts by Francisco Toro and his “lifestyle of opposition activism”?
Did you bring the facts to the associate managing editor for news administration or other supervisors of yours?
They weren’t caught surprised by this, were they?
Did any of them just let these conflicts fester without acting on them?
Paragraph 111 seems very concerned about that point. It says:
“In all cases The Times depends on staff members to disclose potential problems in a timely fashion so that we can work together to prevent embarrassment for staff members and The Times.”
Patrick, have you met this standard?
I was also wondering whether your status as International Business Editor of The New York Times at all exempted you or your correspondents in the business section from any of these ethics codes. That might explain a lot of what has occurred. But, no, I read here to the contrary, in Paragraph 121:
“Staff members in business-financial news regularly work with sensitive information that affects financial prices. Because of that sensitivity, they are subject to additional and stricter requirements. Staff members in technology news and media news are subject to the same rules as those in business-financial news, for the same reason.”
This is interesting, isn’t it, Patrick?
But, wait, now we get to the final four paragraphs, and they raise all kinds of questions specific to Francisco Toro’s tenure with The Times, and your management of him. You know this section, don’t you, Patrick? The one titled “Dealing With Outside Contributors”?
These four paragraphs are from the famous Section 14, which paragraph 7 of your code indicates, very clearly, applies to freelance contractors, too:
Paragraph 152 states:
“Times readers apply exacting standards to the entire paper. They do not distinguish between staff written articles and those written by outsiders. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to The Times, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Times assignments, including those for the Times Magazine. If they violate this code, they will be denied further assignments.”
So, again, Patrick: What is “libelous” about applying exacting standards to you or your newspaper, especially if those standards appear in your own code of ethics?
Paragraph 153 states:
“Before being given an assignment, freelance contributors must sign a contract with The Times. These contracts oblige them to take care to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflict…”
Did Toro sign such a contract? Would you be willing to share a copy of its language with our readers?
Paragraph 154 applies directly to “assigning editors.” This part of the New York Times code of ethics says:
“The contracts concise provisions cannot cover every circumstance that might arise. Assigning editors should ensure that contributors are aware of this code and to the greatest extent possible, in fact honor its provisions while on assignment for The Times. Any disagreement over whether a specific provision applies to outside contributors should be resolved before the assignment proceeds.”
Does that specifically apply to your relationship at any time with Francisco Toro? Wouldn’t you agree that his email resignation letter to you suggests that?
And now, Patrick Lyons, we come to the final Paragraph in the numbered section of the New York Times ethics code for all its journalists. This one may apply even more particularly to you than the previous one. Paragraph 155 states:
“Assigning editors in business and financial news who deal with non-staff contributors have a special duty to guard against conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict. To the extent possible, assigning editors should ensure that outside contributors meet the strict standards outlined in Section 12 above for the business and financial news staff.”
Patrick, imagine that you are indeed under oath, and answer these questions with the same exacting standards that you would have to apply under the penalties and pains of perjury.
Do you believe you have strictly abided by this code of ethics?
Do you believe Francisco Toro has strictly abided by this code of ethics?
Your email to me seemed a bit tense and emotionally upset. I figured maybe you were just blaming the messenger, just another of those damn readers with the “exacting standards” mentioned in the NYT’s ethics code. But then I had the chance to read the full code of ethics, and I can understand much better now why you might be upset to the point of distraction and inventing strongly worded fictions like “libel” that serve to distract from the real issue at hand: That is, how you have done your job, and whether you have followed company policy on many of these important rules.
I didn’t impose these rules on you, Patrick. The New York Times did. You work for the New York Times. And we readers have every right to demand honest answers as to whether New York Times editors and reporters abide by their own stated rules and standards. This ethics code is correct when it says that your adherence or not to these rules can harm or help the credibility of The New York Times. I didn’t say that any louder or more clearly than your own bosses have said it in this document.
Now, do you still feel all full of bluster and wanting to press a “libel” argument? Because, Patrick, if you’re serious about your accusation of a “defamatory screed,” we could do this again, under oath, in the exciting drama of a courtroom setting. I know what that is like. It gets my adrenaline running just to imagine it, particularly in the strange and conflicted dynamic posed by the fact that there would be journalists on both sides of the courtroom.
I know it sounds strange, but I had fun when I argued as a pro se defendant in the New York Supreme Court in July of 2001. On a certain level, if you would now sue me, it would be a wonderful teach-in for the entire public on questions of journalism, conflicts of interest, ethics, and the credibility of tired, gray, commercial media vs. non-commercial journalism: Two very different visions and practices of journalism in a titanic clash!
I don’t at all think I libeled you or Francisco Toro. I reported the truth. I am not aware of any falsehood in my story. And you, invited to substantiate your claim, have failed to produce even one.
And that’s how it is, my dear colleague.
You wrote a letter to another publication last week, Patrick J. Lyons, that said:
”I weep for a profession so infused with people willing to advance strident opinions about a document they plainly have not read… The New York Times’s ethics guidelines…”
Patrick, have you read that document?
Read it and weep.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: I rest my case.
From somewhere in a country called América,
The Narco News Bulletin
P.S. If you sent an email to Toro suggesting that he make his public website private, in order to adhere to New York Times ethics requirements, I think you should send it to us. My readers would all benefit from seeing exactly how you make the sausage of journalism New York Times style. And if not, perhaps you could ask Mr. Toro to send it to us directly. I’m sure he would respect your wishes.
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