By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Did David Brooks’ former superiors know about his conflicts of interest?

The New York Times posted David Brooks’ Friday column last night without any suggestion that something was amiss. Meanwhile, Paul Farhi’s report in The Washington Post raises the possibility that Brooks had let his superiors know he was drawing a salary from Weave, the civic-engagement project he’s affiliated with at the Aspen Institute, but that the new regime, led by opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury, may have been unaware:

People at the Times said Brooks informed at least some of his previous bosses about the details of the Weave project. But last summer saw the departure of the Times’s top editorial-page editors, and Brooks’s current editors were unaware of the arrangement. Officially, the Times has declined to say whether it knew about Brooks’s outside employment.

Needless to say, it would be interesting to go back and see if he wrote any columns about Facebook and other organizations with which he had a financial relationship while James Bennet was the editorial-page editor. Bennet might have known, but those ties weren’t disclosed to readers. Which is, after all, what really matters.


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  1. The Times always has had a rather condescending attitude toward the concept of what readers are entitled to know.

  2. Deborah Nam-Krane

    Didn’t the NYT have a similar problem with David Pogue a few years back?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Your memory is better than mine! I do kind of remember. Complicating matters was that Pogue wasn’t on staff, and I think whatever he was doing outside the Times was actually his main job.

      • Deborah Nam-Krane

        Yes, I think you’re right.

        Is this less of a problem at other prestigious publications? I imagine NYT columnists are in high demand for things like this, and it must be hard to say no to that kind of extra compensation.

      • Dan Kennedy

        I seem to recall that the Globe had an issue with Scott Kirsner a few years ago. It was a little unfair to Kirsner since the Globe really was a side gig for him.

  3. Steve Ross

    Old news perhaps, but while I was researching Port Authority of NY and NJ finances in 1992-1993 for a peer-reviewed journal article in Business and Society Review , I discovered that the Port Authority was treating NYT editorial writer Roger Starr and his wife to dinner, opera, plays and other nights out every 4 to 6 weeks. Cost was about $1,000 per evening, and this was 30 years ago! Starr was frequently writing NYT editorials praising the witless and incompetent PA. Never a bad word about the PA by reporters, either.

    When I told the Times, and suggested (unsuccessfully) to Roger that we talk, the Times did nothing. So I gave the file to the Hackensack Record, which bannered it on page 1. When Seymour Topping came over from the NYT to run the Pulitzer Board, I brought the matter up with him. He had no first-hand knowledge but said it probably would have been handled privately with a “don’t do that again” warning.

    Roger (who died 20 years ago) was a big man in planning in NYC at the time (in and out of government and favoring massive clear-the-block highrise developments), and it would not have been surprising for him to have an organic, longstanding relationship with the PA. One of his editorials praised the hundreds of millions a year the PA passed out to governors of NY and NJ to fund any projects they wanted. This was NYT editorial board policy!

    When the journal article came out, NYT was not interested, so I wrote an opinion piece based on it (The Port Authority Shell Game) for the NY Daily News. That had an interesting effect. One of those porkbarrel projects, using money that the PA was supposed to put toward better commuter facilities, was to turn the Audubon ballroom building (where MalcolmX was assassinated) into a Columbia research lab. After a fight, the lab was installed but the ballroom was kept and restored. But the PA sent a letter to the university’s president Mike Sovern demanding I be fired and warning that Columbia would never get any new funding from the PA! Columbia is a huge place, but Mike Sovern knew me — I had been on University Senate. He called me over to his office, handed me the letter and told me to do whatever I wanted with it. NYT, bastion of First Amendment, ignored it.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I haven’t told this story before, but back when Dick Cheney got his heart transplant, I tweeted a few mild jokes. The Boston Herald presented them along with some much uglier jokes (not mine) and ran a front-page story blasting me. Several Herald readers called Northeastern president Joseph Aoun’s office to demand that I be fired, and he passed that along to the director of our journalism program, the late Steve Burgard. I was still working toward tenure, so I was, uh, concerned. Steve laughed and said Aoun didn’t take it seriously at all — he just thought Steve would want to know. Never hear another thing about it.

  4. Steve Ross

    I could imagine what the heart jokes were all about… I think the Starr thing had huge effect on the PA. It knew it could do anything because it had the NYT editorial board in its pocket. The region suffered and still suffers. A few years earlier, I had written the only honest piece the NYT ever did on the PA, an opinion for the NJ edition of the NYT. I was on the Bergen County transportation board and in the article, recounted lie after lie by PA witness at board hearing. It took a month, but the PA staff cobbled together a “reply” that did not address a word in my original article but spouted a bunch of new lies. NYT published it under the PA chairman’s byline.

    In due course, an NYT editorial appeared saying that PA had just bought $800 million bus fleet for NJ, so we provincials should not complain. The busses, built by Long Island aerospace company Grumman, fell apart on NYC streets. PA paid $100 million to fix them up and depreciated them at $80 million a year for the 9+ years of their useful life — the transaction had netted the PA a tidy profit! NYT refused to publish my letter to the editor noting this little detail.

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