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Cathy Seipp vs. The New York Times

January 24th, 2006 - 2:38 pm

Cathy Seipp is probably my favorite “pro” blogger (meaning somebody who writes for a living and also blogs) these days. Her site is a particularly delicious treat at the moment, thanks in no small part to an ongoing fracas between Seipp and a couple of New York Times reporters.

In brief, Seipp was contacted by one Times-type, Sharon Waxman, who was doing a piece on pay-for-punditry, and had heard that Seipp was once contacted with an offer of $1,000 to write an op-ed with a particular point of view. Seipp confirmed to Waxman that she had once received such an offer–and turned it down flat–but refused to reveal the name of the go-between who’d tendered it.

Then things got interesting. Seipp’s account of her brief interview with Waxman was published by NRO as the lede to this column on punditola. As it happened, Seipp’s column hit cyberspace before Waxman’s story was “ready” at the Times (as far as I can tell, it still hasn’t seen print, or I guess I should say, pixels).

The day after Seipp’s NRO column came out, she received an email from another Times reporter, one David Cay Johnston (no, I’ve never heard of him, either). I’ll let Seipp describe his tone:

Over the years, various journalists — such as Alex Beam of the Boston Globe and Nikki Finke of the L.A. Weekly — have sent me emails that basically say this:

“Hello. Although you have not asked for my opinion, I would like to tell you what I think of you. But I suspect, on some level, that this makes me sound like a pompous git. So you are hereby ordered to keep my insults to you secret. If you disobey, you have violated our non-agreement and are therefore unethical.”

Johnston proceeded to scold Seipp for scooping Waxman–on a story that was so old, even Business Week had already managed to weigh in. Apparently in Times-land, mere mortals are not permitted to report on what reporters annointed at the Old Gray Lady are reporting on, even if said reporter calls them first.

It’s a marvelous, ongoing story, recounted in Seipp’s priceless voice, and I heartily encourage everybody to read the whole thing. Don’t miss the comments, in which Cay weighs in with Seipp’s readers with a manner so fussy and pretentious, it made me wonder for a while if somebody wasn’t assuming his name as a put-on (as you may imagine, he was treated about as well as he deserved). Seipp’s also posted a follow-up that’s just as much fun as the original post.

The whole thing reminds me a little of a common observation about militant atheists: “I don’t dislike them because they’re atheists. I dislike them because they act like jerks.” Seipp’s experience echoes James Lileks’ encounter with the aforementioned Alex Beam and the Powerline guys’ fun with Nick Coleman, as well as the Vodkasphere’s run-ins with Steve Lovelady; it’s enough to make one think the real problem with the MSM isn’t exactly bias, it’s just plain old pompous arrogance.

Along those lines, I’ll leave off (for the moment) with my own comment at Seipp’s site–mostly because it’s the last one in a long thread. Be happy to hear all of your thoughts on the subject, as usual:

Um, what about the much-ballyhooed “public’s right to know?” Since when does a poo-bah of “journalism” have the right to demand that people they’ve contacted don’t report on them? Does collecting a paycheck from the New York Times Corporation magically endow one with the right to not have their own actions reported on?

How novel.

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