He's only got three days left on the job and New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane is making them count: For the second time in a week, he's dinging the Grey Lady's ethical standards. In a blog post today, he takes aim at reporter Mark Mazzetti, who was caught red-handed yesterday showing a CIA flak the entire contents of a Maureen Dowd column prior to its publication in a Judicial Watch FOIA dump. The exchange, from 2011, concerned a Dowd column revealing the CIA's cooperation with Hollywood filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal on their upcoming Osama bin Laden movie. “This didn’t come from me," wrote Mazzetti to the CIA official, "and please delete after you read. See, nothing to worry about.”
For Brisbane, the exchanged constituted two ethical breaches:
Whatever Mr. Mazzetti’s motivation, it is a clear boundary violation to disclose a potentially sensitive article pre-publication under such circumstances. This goes well beyond the normal give-and-take that characterizes the handling of sources and suggests the absence of an arm’s-length relationship between a reporter and those he is dealing with ...
The second boundary violation relates to the oft-cited wall separating news from editorial. After all, in this case a news-side person was fact-checking for a colleague working on the opinion side. The wall is extremely important to The Times because it insulates the news side, which embraces a standard of neutrality in news coverage, from the opinion side, which is free to take sides ... The facts and appearances of this case strongly suggest that The Times should redouble its efforts to strengthen the boundaries that are so essential to cultivating reader trust.
Those two criticisms came despite push back from Mazzetti who said he was simply helping a colleague fact-check her story and a promise that he wouldn't disclose anymore columns again. “I did make a bunch of calls and was doing this on deadline," he said. "As part of the process, I also did send the column. It was definitely a mistake to do. I have never done it before and I will never do it again." In addition, Brisbane was roundly rejected by The Times executive editor Jill Abramson after asking if Mazzetti sent the Dowd column to seek favor with the CIA. " He is an experienced, terrific reporter. Your suggestion is flat wrong,” she said.
That's the second time Abramson has swiftly rejected one of Brisbane's criticisms this week. In Sunday's paper, he accused The Times of having a liberal bias saying across its departments "so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times." In response, Abramson told Politico's Dylan Byers that Brisbane was wrong:
"In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane's sweeping conclusions. I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base. But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping 'the paper straight.' That's essential."
So, looks like those two won't be toasting each other at Brisbane's going-away party. His last day is Friday, when he'll be replaced by Margaret Sullivan, the editor and vice president of The Buffalo News.