Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Why Get Ethical At The New York Times Now?

Mickey Kaus and Donald Luskin are, of course, correct to point out the hollowness of the new New York Times ethics policies.

But why now? Perhaps I missed it, but the Times seems to have provided no satisfactory explanation of why these rules are more important for the paper now. As Kausfiles points out:

Will this fool anyone? That would seem to be the idea. As Michael Kinsley has noted, such rules ban only the appearance of bias, not the actuality of bias. NYT Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse marched in a big pro-Roe, pro-choice demonstration a few years back. Does anybody think she's changed her mind since?

Isn't the promulgation of these new rules without a good explanation tantamount to an admission by the Times that it needs to defend itself from an increasing perception that it's coverage is more biased than it was in the past?

Some explanation has been provided about limited portions of the new rules. For example, according to Editor and Publisher, a Times representative explained: "In the past, we had discouraged a lot of this, but it was not this explicit." Is that really an explanation? The Times representative also explained that tighter stock controls are required because of "the growth of 401(k) stock" and the need, post-Enron, for greater scrutiny of companies. But the new stock ownership limitations apply to senior management - who have always owned stocks, with or without 401(k) accounts.

Further, the new ethics rules go much further than limiting stock ownership. Doesn't this "explanation" of the stock ownership limitations just emphasize that imposition of the other new rules need and lack explanation?

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