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May 27, 2003

MICKEY KAUS has still more on the Rick Bragg story. And Jim Romenesko, back from vacation, has a lot of links, including this one to a Wall Street Journal report that echoes a point made by some emailers here over the weekend (see this post and this one):

The Times says nonstaff journalists are often used to conduct interviews, provide research assistance or help stake out the scene of news events, especially on tight deadlines, but don't receive bylines when their contribution is routine. They may receive one "when their pieces reflect unusual enterprise or unusual writing style," according to a written statement provided by the Times.

Indeed, some Times staffers expressed surprise at Mr. Bragg's suspension because using material from stringers and assistants without giving credit is common practice at the paper, owned by New York Times Co.

(Emphasis added). The story also suggests that Raines knew about Bragg's relationship with the stringer in question for quite some time and didn't object. ("'It wasn't like Rick was hiding anything from Howell, or anyone else at the Times,' Mr. Yoder says. Mr. Raines went to dinner at least once with Mr. Bragg and Mr. Yoder, Mr. Yoder says.") So why, exactly, was Bragg suspended? Is there more to this story?

Kaus, meanwhile, says that Bragg isn't the issue:

The issue is whether the Times is routinely deceiving its readers into thinking that its stories have the credibility safeguard of a bylined reporter who has actually done the reporting in the story.

The answer to that question is looking like "yes," isn't it? Kaus also wonders if Howell Raines (or "whoever is running the show at 43d street") will "retaliate" against Bragg for not going quietly (Bragg is decrying the "poisonous atmosphere" at the Times and dropping not-so-subtle hints that his discipline is motivated by racial balancing in response to the Blair scandal). Who knows? Given the closed shop that Raines runs, that's possible. It's also possible that there's more to this story than we've heard so far -- though Bragg isn't acting like a guy with other charges hanging over his head. Stay tuned for more of "Mr. Raines' wild ride. . . ."