AP Smack Down of NYT's Definitive Gulf Oil Spill Report

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New York Magazine called AP reporter Harry Weber's criticism of the NYT's story "representative of an old struggle." (Credit: NYMag)

Associated Press reporter Harry Weber slammed the New York Times for its Dec. 25 story about the now infamous Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill in a letter published on Jim Romenesko’s Poynter column.

Weber, a “Gulf oil industry” reporter, analyzed the Times article and concluded that the Times’ story central claim –that its reporting made “it possible to finally piece together the Horizon’s last hours” –was wrong.

“There’s just one problem, of course: Their key assertions that the destruction of the Horizon ‘has escaped intense scrutiny’ of other news outlets and that the final hours are only now possible to piece together are patently false,” Weber asserted.

The Times details the sources for its definitive report.They included: “interviews with 21 Horizon crew members,” “sworn testimony and written statements from nearly all of the other 94 people who escaped the rig,” and “thousands of documents.”

Weber counters the documents the Times cited were ones that the “AP long ago reported on.” The photos the Times used to accompany its article, he said, were “laughable.”

Weber noted that AP’s exclusive access to “more than 100 exclusive images provided” by a member of the on-scene crew, Joe Griffin, which helped fight the fire, in early May,” whereas the Times only had pictures from someone on a “nearby boat.”

Weber suggested that the Times was trying to score a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize by timing its story publication so close to the end of 2010.

“It seems to me they want to have the last word of the year on the oil spill, perhaps as a nod to the Pulitzer board in hopes the board has a bout of amnesia too. But the Times doesn’t own the history books.”

New York Magazine, in a blogpost titled “AP Reporter Glove-Slaps the Times for What he calls Credit-Hogging,” called the conflict “representative of an old struggle: The Times does beautiful presentations, lovely graphics, and long-form reporting better than any wire service has the opportunity to do.  But the wire-service reporters toil day to day to bring you breaking stories you often don’t even realize come from them.”

However, Weber addressed this point: “A dozen different AP staffers as early as May have done numerous spot, enterprise and investigative reconstruct pieces on every element in the Times story, plus many they didn’t focus on. The AP has aggressively and repeatedly scrutinized the subject in all media platforms.”

iMediaEthics has written to David Barstow, one of the Times reporters listed on the Deepwater Horizon story’s byline, who redirected us to investigations editor Matt Purdy.  We will update with any response.

UPDATE: 1/3/11 12:52 PM EST: The New York Times’ investigations editor Matt Purdy responded to our e-mail inquiry for comment.  The Times’ complete statement follows:

“Harry Weber’s comments are just plain wrong and there’s no way to explain them other than as a bit of professional jealousy. The Associated Press did much admirable work on the spill, but they did not have our story, which has drawn wide praise for its reporting and narrative force. Further, the Associated Press wrote us a note saying that Weber regretted his email and that it does not reflect the views of the AP. ”

iMediaEthics has written to the AP for comment as well, and will update with any response.

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AP Smack Down of NYT’s Definitive Gulf Oil Spill Report

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