Conflict of Interest

Bernard Weinraub is retiring from the NY Times. For ten years, he was their  LA correspondent covering the entertainment industry beat. Along the way, he  married Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal…but kept on reporting about the biz as if nothing had changed.

In his parting shot, he finally acknowledges what everybody, even those without any journalism experience, already knew and what he strenuously denied…that it was a conflict of interest for him to be reporting about the industry, and impossible for him to be truly impartial, once he married a major player in the movie business.

Clearly, I stayed too long on my beat, clinging to a notion that I
could sidestep conflicts of interest by avoiding direct coverage of
Sony, and learning too late why wiser heads counsel against even the
appearance of conflict.

Well, duh, Bernie.  If a reporter covering the U.S. Senate married a Senator, he would be yanked off the beat in an instant. If  a reporter covering the automobile business married the top exec at Ford, she would be reassigned to something else. But it’s okay for a reporter covering the entertainment industry to marry a studio chief and keep covering the business? C’mon. A kid in a high school journalism class would know better than that.

But my marriage, and some of the events that
tumbled out of it, also taught me something about the ferocity of a
culture in which the players can be best friends one day and savage you
the next.

It took marrying a studio exec for Weinraub to figure that out?  Most people discover that the first week they are in L.A. Doesn’t say much for Weinraub’s keen observational skills, does it?  But the true nature of Weinraub’s naivete and lack of journalistic ethics is betrayed by this stunning admission:

I’d written about Jeffrey Katzenberg, then president of the Walt Disney
Company. He returned every call quickly and often phoned me; he dished
over pasta at Locanda Veneta about all the studios in town and became
such a pal that I once showed him off-the-record comments made about
him by Michael Eisner.
That was wrong and foolish, and years later I still regret it. As soon
as I stopped covering movies, Mr. Katzenberg stopped responding to
phone calls. I was surprised but shouldn’t have been.

Weinraub revealed off-the-record comments to the person the comments were made about? That’s an outrageous breach of ethics. It wasn’t just foolish and wrong, it was reprehensible and shameful.

Weinraub asked to be taken off the movie beat in 2000. The fact is, the New York Times should have reassigned him themselves the day he acknowledged he was dating Pascal…but then again, this is the newspaper that gave us Jayson Blair.

What Weinraub’s article reveals is that the Blair’s behavior wasn’t really an isolated incident, but rather a by-product of  a reporting cultures at the New York Times that, casually disregards basic  journalistic ethics.

How sad for the Times. How sad for its readers. Shame on you, Bernie.

4 thoughts on “Conflict of Interest”

  1. It’s not just the Times. The Washington Post continues to employ Howard Kurtz as their “media critic,” a job that requires him to write regularly about CNN and its competitors — despite the fact that he is also employed… by CNN.
    And of course, the fact that he’s married to a high-level Republican media consultant should be another strike against him.

  2. What Bill mentions seems rather minor, but what Weinraub was up to…damn! The most shocking part is what a naive boob he reveals himself to be.
    Just goes to show ya that the Paper of Record ain’t what it used to be. Assuming it ever was.


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