Public editor Clark Hoyt tackled three different incidents involving Times writers in his Sunday Week in Review column, "The Writers Make News. Unfortunately." Hoyt dealt with columnist Maureen Dowd's plagiarism and columnist Thomas Friedman's exorbitant speaking fees, but the response that garnered most attention was his defense of Times economic reporter Edmund Andrews against new accusations from The Atlantic's Megan McArdle that he was leaving off part of the story in his forthcoming book "Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown,"on his own personal mortgage crisis. Hoyt explained:
In the fall of 2007, Andrews went to his editors with a book proposal. He wanted to tell how the subprime mortgage crisis happened - greedy lenders, regulators who looked the other way and people like himself who made foolish choices.
Though the timing was terrible for The Times - Andrews was the main Washington reporter on the story - he burned to illuminate a national crisis through his personal experience. And he had another strong reason: He needed money.
"I was desperate," he said. He still is. Seven months behind on his mortgage, he may lose his home unless "Busted," which comes out this week, is a hit.
When Craig Whitney, the standards editor, read Andrews's proposal, he asked, "Can you really keep covering this issue if you're personally involved?" Andrews said he did not think any policy decisions would affect him, but if they did, it would not be much different from a reporter covering taxes who stood to benefit from a middle-class tax cut.
After an article adapted from "Busted" was published in last week's Sunday magazine, Bradley Laue, a lawyer in Greeley, Colo., asked how Andrews could continue covering economics. Laue said it would be "like me being disbarred and then reporting on the ethics of lawyers."
Hoyt finally focused on McArdle's new charges in the last paragraphs of his criticism, only to rebut them in dismissive fashion as attacks from an unnamed "blogger":
Andrews is an excellent reporter who explains complex issues clearly. There are plenty of them to cover without assigning him to those that could directly affect whether he keeps his own house. He is too close to that story.
He can't be too cautious. On Thursday, he came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy - the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews's story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism.
Hoyt was bashed by Felix Salmon over his dismissive treatment of McArdle, who Hoyt didn't even deign to name. Salmon found Hoyt's treatment peculiar:
...he spends 11 paragraphs on whether or not Andrews should be covering his own personal housing crisis at all, given his job, and then moves on to Megan McArdle's bombshell with one final tacked-on graf, in which he can't even bring himself to mention McArdle by name. (She's first "a blogger for The Atlantic," and then just "the blogger." You'll excuse me for reading that language pejoratively: if a newspaper columnist had written the same thing, I doubt they would have just been "a columnist" and "the columnist.")
He can't be too cautious" carries with it the clear implication that the next bit of criticism is largely unwarranted - an implication which is reinforced by Hoyt's inability to name McArdle. And the way he talks about Andrews being "under attack" from this anonymous blogger also naturally puts the reader on Andrews's side.
Salmon explained why McArdle's revelations are significant:
The reason why Andrews should have revealed both bankruptcy filings (not only the second one) is that they're highly relevant to his family's finances, and he's written an entire book about his family's finances. The reason is not just "to head off the criticism" he might end up receiving from the blogosphere.
Salmon also detected a "whiff of latent blogophobia" and credentialism on Hoyt's part.
Blogger Tom Maguire has some serious question about the veracity of Andrews' mortgage applications and has this withering summation: "...there is no way the Andrews story can be read as an accurate, honest depiction of his experience."
Megan Garber of the Columbia Journalism Review thought Hoyt needed to give up his hostility toward the blogosphere, which emanated the entire column
Reporter Andrews responded, not to McArdle, but to a PBS news blog run by Paul Solman, a reporter for PBS's NewsHour - Andrews had previously appeared on the show to discuss the book. But Andrews' response glossed over some of the details of his wife's two bankruptcies, as some of the cogent comments on the post indicate.