True Ties

Letter To The New York Times

October 6, 2011

Arthur Brisbane, Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear NY Times Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane:

We are writing to call to your attention a growing problem in American journalism
and to ask your support to help stop it.

There is a disturbing trend of special interests surreptitiously funding “experts” to push industry talking points in the nation’s major media outlets. When these expert commentaries appear in media outlets, their special interest ties go unreported.

Let us give you an example of how this happens. Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, which has received millions of dollars in funding from the fossil fuel tied organizations including ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.  Masquerading as an unbiased expert, Mr. Bryce writes opinion pieces and provides commentaries that often promote fossil fuels and dismiss renewable energy. His commentary has been featured recently in the New York Times, CNN and NPR.

Unfortunately, when media outlets quote or publish op-eds from “bought and biased” pundits, the conflict of interest goes unmentioned. Instead, Mr. Bryce and others are simply identified as a “senior fellow” or an “energy expert.”  As a result, these pundits mislead media outlets and leave readers in the dark about their true ties.  Surely, these outlets can’t expect their readers to know about these connections.

We are asking the New York Times to lead the industry and set the nation’s standard by disclosing financial conflicts of interest that their op-ed contributors may have at the time their piece is published.  By simply asking a few standard disclosure questions, the New York Times can avoid any confusion and ensure better transparency.

We believe that pundits like Mr. Bryce have the right to share their views, but we believe media outlets have the responsibility to inform their readers of opinion writers’ true ties and conflicts of interest.

We fully support this effort and believe this is necessary to ensure that readers are informed when reading the opinion pages.

As our nation’s paper of record, we hope the New York Times will set the standard by revealing the true ties of these “experts” and ensuring that their readers get the whole story.

Sincerely,

Abby Henkel, Society of Professional Journalists

Abby Kleckler, Society of Professional Journalists

Alessi Johnson, Radio Television Digital News Association

Allison Shea, reporter, Norwich Bulletin

Andrea Whatcott, content editor, Deseret News

Andrew Shenkel, former reporter, KCWY

Ashley Henny, North Florida Herald

Barbara Reed, Rutgers University

Brenda Keegan, retired

Brian Donegan, assistant editor, Triple Threat TV

Caleb Tellez, multimedia journalist

Cara Shenkel, former reporter, Loveland Reporter Herald

Christine Cakulo, photojournalist

David Cohn, founder Spot.us, professor at UC Berkeley

Deshundra Jefferson, KTXL Fox 40

Donna Guidry, L'acadien

Ed Perry, owner, WATD FM

Evan Peters, editor

Gene D'Garaa, reporter

Gideon Grudo, University Press

Graham Jesmer, former reporter, Renewable Energy World

Jane Singer, University of Iowa

January Jones, news director, WFHB

Jeff Kiel, former publisher, San Jose Mercury-News

Jennifer Sullivan, journalist

Jordan Carney, reporter

Jordan Gribble, news editor, The Contraband

Kathryn Lynch-Morin, reporter, the Saginaw News

Kevin Washington, St. Petersburg Times

Kevin Ashley, former traffic manager, Univision

Kirby Franze, photojournalist

Krystal Nimigian, Society of Professional Journalists

Lauren Evans, Radio Television Digital News Association

Maggie Calmes, The Lens NOLA

Margaret Randazzo, former publisher, Modesto Bee

Marisa Beahm, former business reporter, Loveland Daily Reporter Herald

Michele Ashley, former producer, NBC 11

Michelle Gao, Asian American Journalists Association

Paul Bush, professor, Franklin Pierce University

Paul Sherno, Agence France Presse

Rosalee Getterman, Society of Professional Journalists

Sammy Mack, Miami Herald/HealthyState Collaborative

Sandy Frost, investigative journalist

Steve Buttry, director of Community Engagement & Social Media, Journal Register Co.

Steve Outing, University of Colorado Boulder, Digital News Test Kitchen

T'erica French, Radio Television Digital News Association

Tabitha Hurley, Society of Professional Journalists

Tanara  Bowie, St. Petersburg Times

Trent Brown, photographer

Vanecia Carswell, University of Florida

Vinti Singh, reporter, Connecticut Post

Wayne Stafford, Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation

Yolanda Vazquez, Maryland Public TV

Sign the Petition

Dear NY Times Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane:

Guest writers like Robert Bryce mislead the public by offering expert opinion under innocuous titles like “Senior Fellow.” But often, guest writers like Mr. Bryce, and his employer the Manhattan Institute, receive millions of dollars from industries like fossil fuels to fund their work.

Read the full letter...

While I believe that all voices should be heard, the New York Times can end this confusion and ensure better transparency.

I’m asking that you have guest contributors disclose their true ties to the industries and issues they write about.

As I form my opinion on issues that matter to me, I believe that everyone has the right be heard; I just want to know the true ties funding their speech.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

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Media Inquiries:
Gabe Elsner, Checks and Balances Project, gabe@checksandbalancesproject.org, (202) 368-5042