Sometimes the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Really. What appears to be a conspiracy is harmless oversight. This happens in the newspaper world at times, when editors pay no mind to subjects their reporters are pursuing, and reporters are clueless about projects the big kahunas have under way. Was this one accident or design? You make the call.
On February 29, an article appeared in The New York Times Sunday Business section discussing the executive challenges involved in Now Who’s Boss?, a reality-TV show that has since premiered on the Learning Channel, on March 8. The show makes a spectacle of top dogs, such as Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch, doing the scut work of the rank and file. In a thrilling reversal of the power dynamic, master turns slave for a day.
That all sounds super-therapeutic. However, the article forgot to mention that the show was produced by New York Times Television for TLC, a fact omitted from many recent articles promoting the show.
Apparently, Times editors had no idea that the show was a production in which the Times Company has a financial stake. In an e-mail to the Voice on March 4, Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis explained, “A reference to the NYT Television connection was omitted inadvertently.” She later added, “No member of the news staff had anything to do with making the program, and there was therefore no real awareness of the corporate connection.”
OK, maybe the business editors didn’t know that the New York Times Company has studios in downtown Manhattan that churn out reality-TV shows. Maybe they live in a bubble. As this column reported in December 2001, the reality-TV unit is the Times Company’s “bastard stepchild,” a potentially lucrative and carefully kept secret that goes against the grain of its quality journalism.
To be sure, NYT-TV produces distinguished shows, including documentaries for the Discovery Times Channel. Because these display the work of Times journalists, they carry the Times brand. Not so for Code Blue, Maternity Ward, and Trauma: Life in the ER, other reality-TV shows the Times Company produces for TLC but rarely mentions in its editorial pages or on nytco.com.
Author Melinda Ligos also must have overlooked the fact that she was promoting a Times product in the Times. Ligos, a regular contributor to the Sunday Business section and editor in chief of Sales & Marketing Management, did not respond to requests for comment. According to Mathis, in retrospect, editors concluded “it might have been a good idea” to disclose the company’s connection with the show. A March 7 Editors’ Note noted the omission.
Times to Diagnose Its Doctor?
Times Metro editor Susan Edgerley opened a can of worms in February when she informed stringer Jay Blotcher that he was being let go “to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest.” Last week, Times editors were pressured to investigate allegations that medical correspondent Lawrence K. Altman has conflicts, too.
Blotcher’s offense, according to the Times: He has a rep as an advocate, on account of having worked for ACT UP in the 1980s, as a spokesperson, and for the American Foundation for AIDS Research in the 1990s. He’d only written a few Metro pieces, but still he had to go. The dismissal was reported by The Washington Post on February 23.
Now Blotcher’s friends are crying foul. First, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer sent a letter to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asking if the decision wasn’t just a little homophobic. Absolutely not, came the answer from executive editor Bill Keller. After what Keller called the “misery” of last year, the Times has simply become more conscientious. Kramer didn’t buy it. In a reply to Keller, he suggested that blacklisting Blotcher as an advocate was not only “amazingly petty” but also hypocritical, considering how many prominent Times reporters have conflicts, too.
Altman’s most prominent offense, according to AIDS activist Michael Petrelis: uncritical coverage of the Centers for Disease Control, with which he has had longtime ties. On March 3, Petrelis posted a letter on a Times forum itemizing activities that allegedly give Altman the appearance of an advocate. The Times acknowledges that Altman worked for an agency now known as the CDC from 1963 to 1966, as chief of the epidemiology and immunization section of the division of foreign quarantine, and that he now serves an an adviser to a board that awards journalism fellowships at the CDC. On March 4, Petrelis was informed that his post to the Times‘ website had been removed and that the matter was to be investigated by standards editor Al Siegal.
Times spokesperson Mathis told the Voice that Altman’s CDC work ended long ago, that he is unpaid as a CDC adviser, and that he has “never worked in public relations or in an advocacy position.” She added, “AIDS activist organizations have long made a target of Dr. Altman . . . because they don’t like some of the developments he reports on AIDS research and financing.” Drawing him into the Blotcher matter is, she said, “diversionary and irrelevant.”
Kittay Is Still ‘Distressed’
The Lingua Franca bankruptcy case drags on, with no resolution for many of the freelancers who have been sued for the return of payments made when LF and University Business closed down in 2002.
LF founder Jeffrey Kittay had no comment when the Voice reported on the lawsuits in January, but now he has spoken out, sort of.
In a March 5 e-mail to the writers “and others” who are being sued, Kittay wrote: “As I have been saying to some of you since we learned of the bankruptcy trustee’s actions, I and my associates . . . continue to be distressed that the trustee has sought to reverse these payments. [The trustee] is appointed by the bankruptcy court and acts independently. We have no control or influence over his actions, and have had no contact with him regarding the pursuit of anyone who has received payments.
“Furthermore, we are skeptical that in the final analysis many of these legal efforts will benefit whichever creditors may remain. As far as we are concerned, they are counterproductive.”
Observers note that if Kittay aims to benefit his creditors, he could stipulate that their claims be paid before those of the investors. The clock is ticking.