Has the New York Times changed its ethical standards? The paper recently refused to publish a slew of controversially obtained climate change emails. On November 20, Andrew Revkin, Environment Reporter, for The New York Times, says he chose not to link to the emails because “the documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”
While Revkin refused to link directly to the documents, he added, “But a quick sift of skeptics’ Web sites will point anyone to plenty of sources.” (link is Revkin’s) Does it make much difference to post directly or through a third party?
A blogger writing for National Review Online says the New York Times is breaking its own precedent in refusing to publish the climate change emails.
“The New York Times’ newfound respect for journalistic ethics, in which it disdains (still) to print hacked climate change e-mails because they ‘have been acquired illegally …,’ is not only a departure from the Times’ own past practices, recent and historic, but goes against more than two centuries of American tradition,” Fred Schwarz writes.
The emails reveal a potential cover-up by global climate researchers at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit. The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb writes, “even the New York Times is forced to concede that ‘the documents will undoubtedly raise questions about the quality of research on some specific questions and the actions of some scientists.’ But apparently the paper’s environmental blog, Dot Earth, is taking a pass on publishing any of the documents and emails that are now circulating.”
“If Revkin’s position is that he will not reproduce publicly available emails simply because they put the authors — whom he happens to agree with and whose increasingly questionable agenda he happens to support — in a bad light, than he ought to consider another career.” Goldfarb writes.
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On November 23, NRO blogger Guy Benson wrote, “Considering the potential bombshell nature of this story, one would think the MSM would jump all over it. As Michael Goldfarb points out, the opportunity to expose clandestine attempts by powerful interests to defraud the public is a journalist’s dream. Evidently that attraction is lost on the Times‘ Andrew Revkin.”
Benson cites past examples of the Times “gleefully splashing national-security secrets across its front page” and gives precedent of the newspaper exposing emails obtained by hackers, such as screenshots of Sarah Palin’s inbox in September 2008.
In his blog for Pajamas Media, Ed Driscoll explains further, “They don’t contain any obvious state military secrets…unlike say the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War or more recently, the secrets of War on Terror, or any of a number of other leaked documents the Times has cheerfully rushed to print. Back in 2006, when his paper disclosed the previously confidential details of the SWIFT program, which was designed to trace terrorists’ financial assets, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said on CBS’s Face the Nation, “one man’s breach of security is another man’s public relations.” Of course, much like the rest of the media circling the wagons with ACORN, it’s not at all surprising that the Times circles the wagons when it’s necessary to save the public face of their fellow liberals.”
In an extensive December 5 post, Times’ ombudsman Clark Hoyt analyzes the initial climate change email decision and the fall-out. “As for not posting the e-mail, Revkin said he should have used better language in his blog, Dot Earth, to explain the decision, which was driven by advice from a Times attorney. The lawyer, George Freeman, told me that there is a large legal distinction between government documents like the Pentagon Papers, which The Times published over the objections of the Nixon administration, and e-mail between private individuals, even if they may receive some government money for their work,” Hoyt wrote.
Other news outlets and blogs posted and published the emails throughout the week, as Revkin acknowledged.
Revkin has twice updated his original post, to respond to such critics and let readers know that he is continuing to investigate. “I’m running down tips and assertions related to the theft and hackings,” he posted on November 22. He offers a link to the news story about the theft, which originally did not link to the emails but now does. None of his updates mention when the link was added.