The paper also says Eichenwald was just trying to maintain contact with the boy out of concern for his safety and wasn't acting as a journalist when he sent the money. But in a sidebar published with his December 2005 story, Eichenwald struck a far different tone. Less humanitarian, more investigative and journalistic:
"The only way to know if Justin was real, I decided, was to meet him in person. And to do that, I had to win the confidence of whoever was answering to his screen name. At The Times, it is standard practice for a reporter to identify himself at the outset, but doing that too soon would mean I might never know the truth. I decided to try to engage this person in conversation and persuade him to meet with me. At that time, I would disclose my identity and only then would I begin the real reporting that could be used in an article...
"Soon thereafter, I proposed meeting in Los Angeles, and Justin agreed. My wife, Theresa, whom I had kept abreast of what was happening, worried that this could be a setup, and made me promise to take precautions. I did, but when I saw Justin at the airport, I was reassured. Although he was 18, he looked much younger and did not seem physically capable of harming me.
"I immediately identified myself as a Times reporter, and Justin, though taken aback, continued to speak to me; for more than an hour, we discussed my background, until he was willing to proceed. Over the next two days, I interviewed the person I now knew was Justin Berry."
The boy's family has now repaid what has morphed from rescue money to a loan to a not-loan. Claims Eichenwald:
"...[T]he money was not provided for information, and was not provided to a source. The money was not a 'loan' (loans are given with the expectation of repayment. There was no such expectation when the money was given.) The money was not paid in exchange for Justin meeting with me."
Eichenwald says Berry bought toys with the money. But he also says Berry "had taken good money and turned it into bad." Huh?
Eichenwald is also incensed that anyone would challenge his excuses. He claims he was "overwhelmed" and forgot -- until his memory was apparently restored during a criminal trial. He told Marketwatch's Jon Friedman it just "slipped my mind in the flood" of events. "Paying for news is the quick, simple line that people are using," Eichenwald said. "But it's not what happened."
Can you imagine how loudly the media ethics mavens would moan and snicker if anyone other than The New York Times provided such convoluted justifications for checkbook journalism?
"[I]t is essential that we preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias," the Times' code of ethics lectures. Do as I say, not as I do, eh, Gray Lady?