The New York Times prides itself on ethical journalism. The company boasts a 57-page "handbook of values and practices" for its newsroom. "Our greatest strength," the paper intones, "is the authority and reputation of the Times."
Last year, former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald received one of countless honors showered on The Ethical, Authoritative Paper's staffers: a University of Oregon award for ethics in journalism. Eichenwald was cited "for preserving the editorial integrity of an important story while reaching out to assist his source, Justin Berry, in reporting on Berry's involvement in child pornography." The judges praised Eichenwald for going beyond reporting and helping Berry escape the pornography trade and facilitating Berry's participation in prosecuting the adults in the porn ring.
Eichenwald and Berry appeared together at a congressional hearing, on the Today show with Katie Couric, and on Oprah Winfrey's couch, where the crusading Eichenwald was credited with "Saving Justin." The University of Oregon judges were "impressed" by the ethical decisions Eichenwald and The Ethical, Authoritative Times made -- as well as by their "transparency."
But now, the rest of the story: Turns out Eichenwald forked out $2,000 to Berry, who was the primary source and subject of Eichenwald's massive Times investigative cover story on webcam child porn in 2005.
Eichenwald failed to disclose the payment. The Times admitted the payment only after it "emerged" in a criminal trial last week related to Eichenwald's story. The payment was made in June 2005. The story was published in December 2005. The Times didn't acknowledge the lack of disclosure until March 6, 2007, when it revealed in an Editor's Note:
"Mr. Eichenwald did not disclose to his editors or readers that he had sent Mr. Berry a $2,000 check... The check should have been disclosed to editors and readers, like the other actions on the youth's behalf that Mr. Eichenwald, who left The Times last fall, described in his article and essay."
Eichenwald and The Ethical, Authoritative Times have offered explanations for the payment that don't pass the sniff test. These rationales certainly wouldn't get past the Times' own editorial olfactory nerves if any of its competitors had committed the very same sin.
Eichenwald now says he and his wife hatched a plan as "private citizens" to give the money in order to learn the teenager's real name and address. "If I can prove, based on that information, that this is a minor, we will contact law enforcement. Otherwise, we will invest the money in hopes of drumming up more information and luring out more information that might prove the point," he explained on media blogger Jim Romenesko's website.