Was the New York Times at Fault for its Handling of Greg Smith’s Letter?

Now that we are in day two of the Memo that Shook Wall Street –  the most famous resignation since Jerry Maguire’s “mission statement” – it’s worth asking whether the New York Times has anything to answer for in this episode.

Landing a prominent article on the Times op-ed page doesn’t happen overnight.  Unlike the news pages, which are designed to cover breaking news quickly, an op-ed takes several days if not weeks to produce.  There’s internal bickering among the Times’s editorial-page editors over which issues and writers will appear on its coveted pages.  Then there’s usually a bit of trimming and primping – usually without the writer’s involvement – as the submitted piece gets ready for its debut.  And especially for unknown writers like Greg Smith, there’s (presumably) some checking of backgrounds and facts.

That is where things get interesting in the case of Smith’s article.

There must have been extensive coordination between Smith and the Times op-ed editors to time the piece with the day he would resign.  The Times clearly wanted the article to have an impact, and wouldn’t have had the same punch if Smith were a former Goldman employee when it appeared.

Nor does it appear the Times made an effort to confirm certain facts with Goldman or offer it a chance to rebut Smith’s assertions.  Neither is a requirement when it comes to op-eds or other “comment” pieces; such niceties are usually reserved for “news” pieces.   But if it had checked, the Times might have better understood that an “executive director” title meant Smith was not as senior or as influential as he might have been suggesting.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Times’s editors engaged in a calculated effort to damage Goldman.  That is troubling.

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