Keller: Times Staffers Lax In Ethics Compliance

Ever since New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (left) publicly returned a $75,000 speakers’ fee earlier this month, Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey has been hounding the NYT about their ethics guidelines pertaining to speaking fees.

In today’s column, Rainey published a memo sent to NYT staffers by executive editor Bill Keller and editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal, which instructed staffers who had earned more than $5,000 last year from speaking engagements to report the earnings to supervisors by June 15.

“We have been reviewing the newspaper’s policy on outside speaking engagements,” the memo said. “We believe that you are all adhering to the spirit of the guidelines, both for speaking on behalf of the Times and to promote books. But we have all become lax in complying with the parts of the ethics guidelines that require annual accounting of income from speaking engagements.”

According to the memo, any fees earned by NYT reporters are supposed to be accounted for by January 31 of the following year. Staffers are also required to ask for special permission if they are offered any one speakers’ fee over $5,000 and, if they are promoting a book, they must get proposed appearances pre-approved. And, as Rainey points out, the paper’s ethical rules also prohibit reporters from accepting fees from any group other than non-profit and educational organizations, which is why Friedman had to return his fee from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

These guidelines are imposed in order to make sure reporters and columnists maintain an unbiased perspective. But if that is the case, perhaps the Times should consider revealing what organizations are paying staff to speak.