Paper admits knowing of conflict of interest, offers all-too-familiar excuses in explaining away lack of disclosure...
By Brad Friedman on 5/4/2010, 2:59pm PT  

John M. Broder and Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times are kind enough today to offer a front page "News Analysis" which works very hard to offer "balance" on the Gulf oil rig gusher by downplaying concerns of an unprecedented ecological disaster noting "the Deepwater Horizon blowout is not unprecedented, nor is it yet among the worst oil accidents in history."

They even offer a scientific "expert" to help support that thesis:

“The sky is not falling,” said Quenton R. Dokken, a marine biologist and the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, a conservation group in Corpus Christi, Tex. “We’ve certainly stepped in a hole and we’re going to have to work ourselves out of it, but it isn’t the end of the Gulf of Mexico.”

What they don't do, however, is let readers know that Dokken's "conservation group," the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, is actually sponsored in large part by the offshore oil drilling industry!

Moreover, when asked for comment about the failure to disclose that rather important piece of information, the Times' Zeller is offering what has now become an all-too-familiar-for-the-"Paper-of-Record" rationalization to explain it all away...

According to Marian Wang at ProPublica today:

At least half of the 19 members of [the Gulf of Mexico Foundation's] board of directors have direct ties to the offshore drilling industry. One of them is currently an executive at Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last month, causing millions of gallons of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seven other board members are currently employed at oil companies, or at companies that provide products and services “primarily” to the offshore oil and gas industry. Those companies include Shell, Conoco Phillips, LLOG Exploration Company, Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Company and Oceaneering International.

The Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s president is a retired senior vice president of Rowan Companies Inc., an offshore drilling contractor.

Meanwhile, Transocean hosted the group’s winter board meeting in January and sponsored a dinner for the board of directors. Past board meetings have been hosted in full or in part by Anadarko Petroleum Company, Shell Exploration and Production, Valero Refinery and Marathon Oil Corporation.

ProPublica received a comment from Zeller which offered the same sense of rationalization that The BRAD BLOG received first from the Times Senior Editor for Standards Greg Brock, and then from their Public Editor Clark Hoyt when we'd initially asked about their repeatedly inaccurate reports on the trumped up James O'Keefe/Andrew Breitbart ACORN "Pimp" Hoax which we spent much of the beginning of this year covering.

Writes Zeller in response to ProPublica's query (this is his full response):

We were aware of GMF’s industry partnerships—and for what it’s worth, I believe they also have members from the agriculture and fishing industries, among others. As you’ll note from Dr. Dokken’s bio, the group also includes marine scientists.

You could certainly mount the argument that such co-mingling might influence his assessment of the oil slick and how bad it might get, but as I understand it, the bulk of GMF’s operating budget comes from federal and state grants, so that wasn’t my sense.

Of course, it’s probably always better to err on the side of full disclosure (ditto for Oceana, another group quoted in the article), but we operate within space constraints as well—and I believe we did link out to the various Web sites, so enterprising readers could peruse their boards and sponsors.

At least in this case, Zeller admitted right off the bat, sort of, that a problem had occurred. That's more than we can say for Brock and Hoyt, who stood by everything about the Times' out-and-out inaccurate coverage of the ACORN "Pimp" Hoax, which the duo even made ridiculous excuses in support of and accused us of having a political agenda for demanding accuracy in their reporting. They would eventually, months later, after it was way too late, offer a tepid and begrudging correction to just one aspect of their multiple misreports.

So Zeller didn't attempt to cover things up, as his higher-ups Brock and Hoyt inexcusably did, but instead of simply apologizing for the oversight/failure and making an appropriate correction/update to the report excuses are offered. The original story remains on the NYTimes website even now, at least half a day since it was first published, without any updates.

By way of our own disclosure, we've dealt with Zeller in years past, and have come to like him on a personal level. But the excuses at the Times have got to stop. It seems to be the culture there now --- find any reason to not cop to errors and correct them immediately.

At least that's the case as long as such errors don't adversely affect Rightwingers. In that case, the Times, and the rest of the (absurdly so-called) "Liberal Media" can't issue appropriate --- or even inappropriate --- corrections fast enough.

Of course, today's entire sorry tale underscores Ernest Canning's spot-on piece at The BRAD BLOG yesterday, decrying the corporate media's continuing role in helping to boost the fossil fuel industry's Climate Change Denial Machine.

Do the right thing, Tom. Stop making excuses and update that story ASAP. You really don't want Tom Tomorrow to make you as famous as he did Hoyt, do you?

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