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Monday, May 25, 2009

Times Ombudsman Snubs Chronicle's M&R over Friedman Flap

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2009 at 7:24 AM

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The Sunday edition of the New York Times arrived on doorsteps yesterday morning with an embarrassingly broad apologia from Public Editor Clark Hoyt over perceived transgressions by several Times writers. Among them was a flap of local provenance. Two weeks ago, San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross reported that the Times' Thomas Friedman was being paid the princely sum of $75,000 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for a speech in Oakland.

Friedman, one of America's best-known columnists, agreed to give the money back a few days after Matier and Ross broke the story. To judge from Hoyt's explanation in the pages of the Times, fault lies with Friedman's agent, who disregarded the newspaper's prohibition on accepting speaking fees from government agencies. That's all fine, but we couldn't help noticing that Hoyt gave scant attribution -- make that no attribution -- to the Chron columnists who started this kerfuffle.

Matier and Ross were clearly proud of the role they played in getting Friedman to return the money, going so far as to quote a source gushing thanks for their journalistic exploits in a follow-up story. (In case you missed the point that the air-quality board was being saved $75,000 by the pair's reportage, they cap the story with this tidbit from agency spokeswoman Lisa Fasano: "Thanks to you and your article, we're getting $75,000 back.")

The Times was not so eager to give credit. In this particular saga, M&R's role will be known to the nation's readers and remembered for posterity as Hoyt described it: "Reporters in California brought the matter to everyone's attention."

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Peter Jamison

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