Patterico's Pontifications

10/13/2007

Balko Saga Continues: The WSJ Responds . . . to an Argument I Didn’t Make

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 3:17 pm

Robert Pollock, features editor for the Wall Street Journal, has responded to my e-mail faulting the paper for not disclosing Radley Balko’s hidden agenda in his recent piece on Dr. Steve Hayne.

Brace yourself for some eye-opening sophistry.

Patrick,

1) I know of no reporter who believes good stories discovered in the pursuit of other stories create conflicts of interest or “hidden agendas”

2) Hayne was offered an opportunity to defend himself; he is still welcome to write a letter to the editor if he likes.

3) Balko is not a DJ employee so I fail to see the relevance of our Code of Conduct policy (see also point 1)

If there is any part of the Balko story that is inaccurate we’d like to know.

Best
Rob

This glib brush-off is notable for at least two reasons. First, there is the blatant strawman employed in point 1, which is more characteristic of a flippant blog commenter than an editor for a prestigious national publication. Second, there is the breathtaking assertion in point 3, that outside contributors to the WSJ are not subject to the rule against hidden agendas.

Here is my response — which, under the circumstances, I consider restrained:

Re: Your claim that outside contributors to the WSJ are allowed to have undisclosed agendas

Mr. Pollock,

In your October 12 reply to my e-mail about Radley Balko’s failure to disclose a hidden agenda in his recent op-ed, you say: “Balko is not a DJ employee so I fail to see the relevance of our Code of Conduct policy” against hidden agendas in WSJ journalistic undertakings.

You can’t seriously mean to say that outside contributors are free to have undisclosed agendas.

Placing that extraordinary claim to one side, you are a Dow Jones employee, Mr. Pollock, as is everyone on the Wall Street Journal editorial page staff. I have told you about a hidden agenda in a WSJ journalistic undertaking.

Do you see the relevance of the policy now?

I understand that you don’t believe Balko had a hidden agenda, but your belief rests on a misstatement of my argument. You say:

I know of no reporter who believes good stories discovered in the pursuit of other stories create conflicts of interest or “hidden agendas”

That is a devastating retort — to an argument I never made. Now, could you please address the argument I did make?

This is not about the fact that Balko discovered this story while working on another story. If that were the only issue, sir, I wouldn’t have bothered to write you.

The issue is one of disclosure of a pre-existing bias. Journalistic principles require disclosure of such biases, even if you believe that the story’s facts are correct, and that the bias had no effect on the piece.

As I have already explained, Radley Balko is the public face of the case for Cory Maye’s innocence. Balko is deeply invested in the effort to free Maye from prison, on a personal and professional level. One of the main obstacles to freeing Maye is the testimony of Dr. Hayne at Maye’s trial. As Balko himself has said: “Hayne’s testimony was crucial in securing Maye’s conviction.”

If Dr. Hayne is discredited in the eyes of the Mississippi courts, it could lead to Maye’s case being re-evaluated. Balko has admitted on this blog that he hopes this will happen, saying: “Here’s hoping Hayne gets continued scrutiny from the state’s supreme court going forward, including when they sit to hear Cory’s case,” and “Do I hope my expose of Dr. Hayne gets Cory’s case reviewed? Absolutely.” If Maye were freed due to Balko’s work, it would benefit Balko on a personal and professional level, just as Balko has achieved renown for his efforts in getting Maye off of Death Row.

Such agendas should be disclosed.

I know that the WSJ understands this, because I see the principle in action in today’s edition of the WSJ, in a case that is far less compelling for disclosure.

Today, Naomi Schaefer Riley has a commentary about [] donors’ efforts to ensure that their donations to universities are used for their intended purpose. The piece mentions the Templeton Foundation, which runs contests in which schools compete for grants. The piece ends with a disclosure that the author “has received grants from the Templeton Foundation.”

The WSJ made this disclosure even though 1) the Templeton Foundation is mentioned only in passing; 2) nobody is alleging that Ms, Riley got any facts wrong; and 3) nobody is suggesting that the grants she received had any effect on the views expressed in the piece.

It’s a simple matter of disclosure, and your paper handled it properly — with Ms. Riley.

It’s not necessary that money change hands for such disclosures to be appropriate. The WSJ would not let a reporter do a hit piece on a CEO without revealing that the reporter is one of the primary stockholders in a rival company. Money needn’t be involved; a WSJ editorial writer would never criticize a candidate for political office without revealing that the editor’s wife is an adviser to the candidate’s opponent. The WSJ would not let a scientist ridicule a rival’s scientific theory, without revealing that the rival’s theory questions the validity of the author’s own theory.

These people all have hidden agendas — or at least, there is a basis for a critic to argue that they have hidden agendas.

Similarly, Radley Balko (at least arguably) has a hidden agenda in attacking Dr. Hayne.

That, Mr. Pollock, is the issue — not some easily refuted point about Balko having discovered this story in the pursuit of another story. Balko has a pre-existing bias against Dr. Hayne, and an undisclosed agenda to discredit him. WSJ readers should have been told this. They should be told now.

Since I haven’t received a response to that argument, I would appreciate one now.

Yours truly,

Patrick Frey

http://patterico.com

P.S. You ask whether anything in Balko’s piece is inaccurate. Although it is not clear-cut, there is strong evidence that Balko’s opening anecdote is potentially misleading — or at least that there is a more innocent explanation for Dr. Hayne’s testimony than the interpretation related by Mr. Balko. For more information, see my blog posts on the issue here and here, with quotes from a court opinion that disputes Mr. Balko’s characterization. (This opinion was overturned by a Mississippi Supreme Court opinion — but even Mr. Balko has conceded that the Mississippi Supreme Court 1) mischaracterized the Court of Appeals opinion and 2) offered no explanation for rejecting the considered analysis of the Court of Appeal regarding the nature of Dr. Hayne’s testimony.)

That said, Balko has raised serious issues about Dr. Hayne, and I have called for a state investigation of him and his work. I write in defense of full disclosure and accuracy, not Dr. Hayne.

69 Responses to “Balko Saga Continues: The WSJ Responds . . . to an Argument I Didn’t Make”

  1. Any comment that says I am obsessed with this will be deleted. Don’t respond to such comments, as you’ll end up responding to something that’s not there.

    Some of you have said that lately; your opinion has been noted and is overruled. This is an issue of journalistic disclosure. It is of interest to me and some of my readers. If it is of no interest to you, move on to the next post. If you can’t handle that, move on to the next blog.

    Patterico (c64cc1)

  2. Well, you’re right that he didn’t address your concern.

    “It’s not necessary that money change hands for such disclosures to be appropriate. The WSJ would not let a reporter do a hit piece on a CEO without revealing that the reporter is one of the primary stockholders in a rival company. Money needn’t be involved…”

    You go on to make some good points, but this isn’t the best part of your email. What essential difference is there between money and stock investments?

    Anyway, I guess it’s not “changing hands”.

    All in all a well reasoned rebuttal to Robert Pollack, who did not address your initial complaint in his reply. His strongest argument was about Balko not being a Dow Jones employee. Your following through with saying Pollack is was a good point, but I imagine he’s not eager to accept the reasoning that he and his fellow editors are personally responsible for the bias of all op-ed writers.

    That aside, and I think you’ll find it’s critical to Pollack’s thinking, Pollack simply did not address this point of yours:

    “Mr. Balko has famously championed the innocence of a Mississippi inmate named Cory Maye. Mr. Balko has been credited with getting Mr. Maye off of death row. However, Mr. Maye remains in prison. Mr. Balko has said he hopes that Mr. Maye will eventually be freed.”

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  3. I’m not surprised that the WSJ editor’s initial response was to defend Balko but I’m still disappointed he either (1) didn’t get your point or, more likely, (2) didn’t want to address your point.

    Apart from Balko and Hayne, I’m actually interested in the rules journalists work under. If outside articles or op-eds aren’t subject to any disclosure rules, I’m not sure I’ll bother to take one seriously again. Unlike many other large newspapers, I still trust the WSJ. At least I did.

    DRJ (74c23b)

  4. I still think that calling Balko’s reporting on Maye an “agenda” is kind of like making Woodward and Bernstein disclose their Watergate connection every time they ever reported on Nixon again.

    Sure, journalists take a huge interest in certain stories. But it’s not because of any personal connection to the people involved.

    Phil (aa9cba)

  5. The stronger argument in your facts that you overlooked, Phil, is that Woodward and Bernstein’s Nixon connection and the benefit it gave to the career is so well known. In Balko’s defense, he wasn’t taking any steps to keep his connection to Maye a secret.

    Yes, I feel it would have better if it were declared in this article, but also it’s a mitigating factor to me that there was no attempt at secrecy involved. Many people reading the article would have got the connection. I think it was lack of disclosure was an oversight rather than deception.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  6. Taking my own argument a step further as I think about it, there is a big difference between someone who owns stock or has received a payment in the past… all of which by their nature would not be widely known… compared to someone who has very publicly campaigned an end result that just happens to be aided by what they’re writing about now.

    In a perfect world both should be disclosed… but in the first case, the writer could benefit from the fact the disclosure is secret… in the second, the writer is less likely to because the writer’s previous campaign was public in nature and the writer is known for it.

    Indeed, Radley Balko has details of his Maye and Hayne work all over his website. Patterico has referenced Balko’s publicly posted resumé, which features Maye.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  7. The counterargument to my argument, is, yes, the writer wouldn’t get away with it since he’s been very public in his previous campaign… but non-disclosure is unfair to the reader who isn’t aware of the writer’s past. These readers will comprise the majority.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  8. Err … will you delete my comment if I call you naive? Or even an innocent little curly lamb? Aren’t you the author of this post, one of a great many showing that “journalistic ethics” is a contradiction in terms? Did you really expect an editor of the WSJ to be in anything other than full CYA mode for an article his paper published?

    nk (6e4f93)

  9. Pollock’s response was one I would have expected circa, pre-internet/blog–in haste and perhaps a little bitchy ta boot.

    They still don’t get it.

    PC14 (f74534)

  10. Patrick,

    I’ve come here via Balko’s site via reason.

    I think you recognize that your argument is more subtle than most people care about. I definitely think that Balko’s history with the Maye case is relevant, but that it can be left for secondary research. Not every article is a legal case.

    How exactly will Balko benefit from damaging Haye? It is not beneficial in the first or second degree. He will not receive money, and nor will he help anyone he knew before his articles came out. Please note that most discolsures are about monetary, organizational, or familial relations. Balko has no such relation to the Maye case.

    Sean (36d4ad)

  11. PS I also appreciate your work into reviewing his reporting. Those nuances were things we never would have known otherwise. The internet has become a powerful research tool with people like yourself.

    I simply don’t understand your standard that previous grudges need to be disclosed in every article.

    Sean (36d4ad)

  12. Patterico:

    The Los Angeles Dog Trainer Times is famous for not revealing hidden agendae; my friend Lee (referred to on Big Lizards as “Friend Lee”) noted three, one of which I can’t remember. The other two were:

    The Times published a long review of a popular economics/history book by a libertarian capitalist economist. At the end of the review, which was negative to the point of caricature, the little blurb about the reviewer read only “Eric Hobsbawm is a historian at the University of London.”

    The Times editors could have added, “and a well-known Marxist and longstanding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party Historians Group.” It would have been kinder to the target of the hit piece.

    The Times once published an op-ed about the incompetence and criminality of the LAPD and the L.A. district attorneys.

    In the little blurb at the end, the Times wrote only, “O.J. Simpson lives in Los Angeles” (!)

    Dafydd

    Dafydd ab Hugh (445647)

  13. Sean #11:

    I simply don’t understand your standard that previous grudges need to be disclosed in every article.

    If you haven’t read it already, I encourage you to read and think about this comment by Milhouse on another thread.

    DRJ (74c23b)

  14. Can you imagine if anyone held Patterico up to the insane standards he is holding Balko and the WSJ up to? Their brains would explode.

    This story’s acts are undisputed. Yeah, Balko is passionately opposed to Hayne. Good for him, I’d be too in his shoes. It ought to be well known that Balko is a vigorous defender of civil rights against some sick prosecutors and their friends (And I’m a tough on crime type).

    The WSJ should have noted the motivation in some small way.

    But. Hayne is a killer. We need to stop the march of experts that persuade gullible juries. We need to jail prosecutors gone bad and experts who exaggerate. This is a deadly topic. People are losing their freedom and life because of this problem. If your only concern is this slight of a bias (after all, Balko only reported the truth), then that’s a pathetic criticism that ought to be ignored instantly.

    It’s a problem of scale. Hayne is a monster. Balko is a hero who made a tiny misstep, and has a pattern of being a bit zealous in his passion for fighting this huge problem.

    Dustin (9e390b)

  15. In this post, does patterico note that he relies on experts like Hayne? That he has a history of attacking Balko? Berhaps, as Cristoph notes, some readers coming from other blogs won’t realize this information and think Patterico is totally unbiased.

    I’d think it absurd that he be expected to note such a tenuous and minor potential conflict of interest. And that people who droned on and on about it were a little nuts.

    Dustin (9e390b)

  16. Careful, Dustin, you’re coming close to implying the forbidden thing…

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  17. “This story’s acts are undisputed.”

    What does that mean?

    Patterico (abecd0)

  18. “If your only concern is this slight of a bias (after all, Balko only reported the truth), then that’s a pathetic criticism that ought to be ignored instantly.”

    Dustin, when making other points, some of which may be good ones, can you stop and think a moment about what you’re saying before you make such egregious — and false — slurs? Patterico has expressed extreme discomfort with Hayne’s actions, described Balko’s op-ed as an almost certain overall net good, and called for a state investigation into Hayne’s behavior and testimony.

    Outright lying or carelessness doesn’t enhance your position. It’s deeply personally offensive too and it is unnecessary.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  19. DRJ,

    Thanks for the link, I hadn’t caught that before. And yet I still don’t see the need for disclosure. Balko is not receiving money from Maye as in the Cochran example. He could easily stop reporting on the case entirely without losing anything.

    I think it is good there are people on the internet making note of his biases. I just think those don’t stem from the usual things that require disclosure in an article.

    Is there some standard of disclosure that newspapers use?

    Sean (36d4ad)

  20. Sean,

    If Johnny Cochran had represented O.J. Simpson pro bono (for free), does that mean he didn’t have to disclose his representation in Milhouse’s Cochran/Furman example?

    If you answered “No” to that question, then how does it differ from Balko’s advocacy for Maye?

    DRJ (74c23b)

  21. By the way, Sean, I don’t know what the rules are for journalists and that’s one reason I’m interested in the Wall Street Journal’s response. I hope the WSJ takes this seriously enough to provide a thoughtful and informative one.

    DRJ (74c23b)

  22. The distinction that’s important here, I think, will be the rules for op-ed writers. Are they the same as for journalists and paid stringers?

    I’m not sure they are. I don’t know.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  23. I don’t really remember what label they put on Balko’s article, but it was standard journalism in substance.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  24. Is there some standard of disclosure that newspapers use?

    One standard is disclosing hidden agendas. As noted in the letter, Dow Jones has that standard.

    As also noted in the letter, the arguable hidden agenda should be disclosed even if the writer and editors believe that all the facts are correct in the article, and that the hidden agenda has nothing to do with the motivation for writing the article.

    Why else would they disclose Ms. Riley’s acceptance of grants from the Templeton Foundation? That disclosure does not mean that they believe the grant money affected her in any way, or undermined her facts.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  25. I think arguing for an extraordinary extension of disclosure rules to cover op-ed writers. Ex presidents write op-eds. They have had enormous effect on any number of issues all of which will be used to evaluate their “legacy”, seemingly something ex-presidents are known to be concerned with. How much disclosure will be required?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  26. *you’re

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  27. If a reader doesn’t know the writer was president, he needs more help than a mere disclosure can provide.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  28. Yes, that makes sense, but all sorts of people other than presidents write op-eds and may have pursued any number of decisions in their life some of which will have brought them into awareness of things they focus on and write about.

    I’m not saying you’re wholly wrong and I would have been more comfortable with a disclosure here than not… but just how much discloure are we talking? I still can’t help but think the answer will be different depending on if the writer is a paid employee or contractor vs. an op-ed writer the paper is eager to have offering an opinion for free.

    The paper may not want to tie op-ed writers down with onerous requirements that aren’t part of the writer’s day-to-day experience (journalism code of ethics) and may prefer the fact that others can just write in their own op-ed / letters to the editor if they disagree and need to point out bias.

    Mr. Pollack does seem to be saying in 3 that the rules are different for op-ed writers. Do you think the rules should be the same or different in some way?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  29. Would it have been helpful for Broadway Joe Wilson to disclose when he wrote his infamous NY Times piece about his trip to Niger that he was working on the Kerry campaign? I don’t recall seeing that disclosed at the time.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  30. It would have been.

    I guess my point is how does a newspaper corral their diverse high powered completely unpaid op-ed writers and force them into compliance with their internal code?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  31. Completely unpaid?

    When I did Outside the Tent pieces for the L.A. Time, I believe I received $400 a pop.

    I gave the money to my sister, because 1) she needed it worse than I did, and 2) I didn’t want the LAT’s money.

    But don’t assume there was no payment. Doesn’t matter to the issue, really . . . just sayin’.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  32. Before publication, the editor could ask if the author has any other interest in the subject matter.

    DRJ (74c23b)

  33. I believe payment WOULD matter to the issue… insofar as I think it would be a strong argument the person could be considered an employee per the code. Maybe not, but certainly hard to argue the person has nothing to do with DJ and doesn’t have to meet any standards if they’re paying him.

    But you believe it’s not central to the issue. Okay, DRJ has made her suggestion in comment 32, what would you add to that? How would it look like from the media outlet’s point of view that all disclosure is made? And just in op-eds… or in media appearances like TV interviews too?

    One reason I think these disclosures may not be made… is the media outlet not wanting to take up time/space with them when that could be filled with more interesting content to attract advertisers. Particularly on TV.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  34. Almost two years ago, Joe Lieberman wrote a WSJ op-ed that said things we’re going just great in Iraq and we’ll soon be able to start reducing the number of troops we had there:

    http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110007611

    All the disclosure reader got was:

    Mr. Lieberman is a Democratic senator from Connecticut

    Full disclosure?

    alphie (99bc18)

  35. My recommendation, folks, is that you not respond to that comment. It is not what the thread is about. alphie has made whatever point he wanted to make, but I’m not going to watch this thread devolve into a debate about Lieberman or the war. If it does, I’ll just delete all such comments.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  36. I think alphie made a good point, which is basically my point in comment 25, restated with a different title. I think aside from alphie choosing a comment to express his point of view about the war, on purpose I’m sure, the on topic part of his comment is that some people have done a whole lot and you can’t expect them to necessary remember every impacting decision they’ve had on it every time they write an op-ed and full disclosure could get very cumbersome. For a journalist, they have to make an extra effort because this is their profession, but op-ed writers generally don’t that I’ve seen. Usually at the end is a brief bio of the op-ed writer, mention of their latest book, link to their website, etc.

    In the Balko case, there was this statement:

    Mr. Balko’s feature article on Steven Hayne appears in the November 2007 Reason magazine, where he is a senior editor.

    While that isn’t what Patterico feels was appropriate, it does seem to me to be within standard practice as it exists today.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  37. Again, if people don’t know Lieberman was against the war, they are beyond help.

    Disclosures are to reveal things most readers wouldn’t know.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  38. Patterico, I know a lot of people including family members who wouldn’t know Lieberman’s name but would have a fuzzy notion about Democrats being against the war. Some people are simply uneducated. Now where my theory falls apart is they don’t read Opinion Journal…

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  39. Another argument against your position… at least where Radley Balko is concerned…

    In your email to Robert Pollack, near the beginning of your email and therefore I believe you make it a large part of the basis for your position, you make a point of mentioning the Dow Jones’s own Code of Conduct:

    “Dow Jones’s Code of Conduct for employees states in part: ‘There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.’ ”

    Yet this same Code of Conduct says:

    “All employees of Dow Jones are responsible for compliance with all aspects of this code. All new employees shall be required to read this code at the outset of their employment, and to attest in writing that they have done so; all Dow Jones employees shall be required, at the time this code is first promulgated, to read it and so attest. In the case of all members of senior management, and all news and advertising personnel, such written attestations shall be required once each year.”

    There is no evidence that Balko ever read this code and, if he did, that he ever understood it applied to him (doubtful in any event). Certainly there is none at all that he gave a written attestation of his compliance. So this Code is in no way binding upon Balko.

    In your October 12 reply to my e-mail about Radley Balko’s failure to disclose a hidden agenda in his recent op-ed, you say: “Balko is not a DJ employee so I fail to see the relevance of our Code of Conduct policy” against hidden agendas in WSJ journalistic undertakings.

    You can’t seriously mean to say that outside contributors are free to have undisclosed agendas.

    I think that’s exactly what he means because they haven’t signed on to the Code. When you wrote for LAT did you have to sign their Code of Conduct?

    If so, correct me, but if not, it would seem a stretch to be able to hold a writer to a Code they’ve never attested to.

    Placing that extraordinary claim to one side, you are a Dow Jones employee, Mr. Pollock, as is everyone on the Wall Street Journal editorial page staff. I have told you about a hidden agenda in a WSJ journalistic undertaking.

    So it seems to me what you’re arguing is Robert Pollack breached the Dow Jones Code of Conduct and journalistic ethics?

    While I consider this a stretch, it is at least cogent. However, I think it lessons your philosophical blows against Balko.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  40. Patterico’s hysterics would be a lot more palatable if HE HIMSELF would address why he didn’t put in the disclosures HE SAID he would if submitting somehting to the WSJ.

    Why isn’t the fact you have an acrimonious history with Balko relevant anymore, Patterico?

    Funny how you YOURSELF are bitching about censorship over at the LA Times when you yourself have decided to censor one of the theories as to your multiple posts on this matter.

    Under your theories of the need for disclosure, why do the editors NOT deserve to know your disclosures? If you were publishing your initial post attacking Balko in the WSJ, why WOULD they deserve to know your disclosures….as you have previously argued?

    Someone is censoring AND stonewalling while bitching to high heaven about others doing the same.

    Dude (ec7eb8)

  41. “even if you believe that the story’s facts are correct, and that the bias had no effect on the piece.”

    LOL. And how exactly does this square with your contention in the comments thread before that your OWN letter is one of those “you either see it or you don’t” type of pieces? That you BELIEVE your own disclosures have no effect on your own piece?

    Your hypocrisy is just unreal.

    Dude (bd0c71)

  42. Despite your subsequent denials the title of your first post on this issue was “Balko’s WSJ Op-ED Fails to Disclose the Main Reason that He Wrote It”. I do not see how this can reasonably construed other than as a claim that the Cory Maye case was his primary motivation for writing this article, rather than simply being how he first got interested. If it is not what you meant then you should have been clearer about what you meant. This just looks petty.

    OK, I obviously don’t share your approach to morality. I see morality as the worst place to indulge in ostentation and point-scoring. I think you are on thin ice here.

    Lloyd Flack (d95645)

  43. “Balko has a pre-existing bias against Dr. Hayne, and an undisclosed agenda to discredit him. WSJ readers should have been told this. They should be told now.”

    Frey has a pre-existing bias against Balko, and an undisclosed agenda to discredit him. WSJ editors should have been told this. They should be told now.

    Dude (ec7eb8)

  44. In most cases payment for an op-ed isn’t payment for services, it’s payment for specified publication rights for the work. It’s the purchase of an asset, not payment for services.

    The only time it’s considered payment for services is if there’s a specific, written, work-for-hire agreement, something I’m pretty sure the WSJ doesn’t do.

    While Balko might have a hidden agendy, Pat has given no evidence that there is a hidden agenda other than the one the WSJ editor addressed — that Balko found out about Haynes when researching another story.

    Gary Carson (c536f6)

  45. “Pat has given no evidence that there is a hidden agenda other than the one the WSJ editor addressed — that Balko found out about Haynes when researching another story.”

    Gary, with all due respect, that’s total bullshit that shows you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

    (I said “due.”)

    Balko has admitted the existence of another agenda at work, which was not disclosed to WSJ editors. We can debate whether it’s an agenda that should be disclosed, but to pretend there is no evidence of it at all is just utterly false.

    Next time get your eyeballs reading the screen before your fingers hit the keyboard.

    Patterico (94e4a4)

  46. Patterico is still stonewalling on addressing why he previously said he would DISCLOSE that which he did not.

    Dude (bd0c71)

  47. American Journalism…
    Unfortunately, the elites in the journalistic community and academe, have attempted to elevate a craft, to a profession, so that they can become un-accountable for the associations that they have.
    Media was, generally, held in higher esteem, when it was populated by ordinary guys (and gals), who learned their craft by covering the Women’s Club socials, and the Police beat, etc. At least then, they had a wider general knowledge of the world around them, and had not been corrupted by the Ivory Tower into believing that we must be perfect, not just good (but, of course, their imperfection is not relevant).
    Attempting to get the average journalist to admit that there is a skeleton in the closet is like getting the Pope to admit there is no God!

    Keep pressing, if they are unable to respond, they have no business being in the position they hold.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  48. The problem I have with this is that it appears that by Patterico’s standards everyone would have to spend hours analyzing their motives before doing anything. Secondly, Patterico seems to be suggesting a motive for Balko’s story without offering sufficient proof. I’ve read (actually been following) the posts on this subject and simply don’t believe that anyone has offered sufficient proof to claim that Balko’s treatment of Hayne was the result of a hidden agenda and was only the result of his work on the Maye case, and that were it not for the Maye case he would not have worked the Hayne story had he known of it.

    To try to draw an analogy. I worked as a mechanic and there were numerous times where I started out to solve one problem with a vehicle and found others along the way. Did I have some kind of motive against the vehicles owner that required me to explain why I happened to find the other problems? Why couldn’t it be a simple case of looking for the solution to a given problem and finding another along the way, and that appears to be what Balko did. He started out on the Maye case and discovered Hayne. The fact that he wrote an article on Hayne does not mean that his only interest was the effect it might have on the Maye case. Yes, it is possible that might have been part or all of the reason, but without at least some actual evidence of that it is a real stretch to suggest that it is and that his editorial was not simply the result of discovering another problem while trying to solve the first one.

    To put it another way. Suppose you were investigating a crime committed by suspect A. Along the way you came across something that caused you to start looking at suspect B, but that suspect A and suspect B were in no way working together, nor were their crimes even of the same type. Then add in that the investigation of suspect A went nowhere and that you concluded that suspect A was in fact innocent of any crime. Would you be required to present to the jury the fact that you discovered suspect B because of suspect A, or would you be ethically allowed to simply prosecute the case you found against suspect B without disclosing suspect A when mentioning him would only hurt his reputation by linking him to crimes he did not commit.

    Now having said all that, I did find Pollock’s response odd, but I still don’t think you make a good enough case that Balko was motivated by his work on the Cory Maye case and not simply because he found a story. Yes, he is probably the best known face of the Maye case, but that does not mean he can’t work on other stories, or that other stories he works on, which may involve some some people involved in the Maye case, are done because of or adversely influenced by his work on the Maye case.

    Disclaimers and disclosures are supposed to allow the reader to see any hidden agendas the writer might have. Also remember that journalism is not the same as court and the rules of evidence. So I would say that unless you can show that there were errors of a substantial nature in Balko’s editorial, you are making a mountain out of something less than a molehill. I am perfectly willing to agree that we would all be much better off if all journalists would disclose all their political affiliations and beliefs, but until that time comes I think you are beating a dead horse. Trying to hold Balko to much higher standards than are commonly practiced within the field of journalism strikes me as wrong.

    My own full disclosure. I find Balko much like most journalists and inclined to hyperbole, although not as much as some. I tend to disbelieve most of them unless I can find other sources to back them up. To be blunt, I have little respect for journalists. The only other group I hold in lower regard is politicians. So if you can come up with a way to raise the ethical standards of all journalists and not simply go after a few, I will be more than glad to assist you. If you can’t, then I think it pointless and unfair to single out one unless it is to point out factual errors and while Balko might have done a better job of writing, he did not appear to make any mistakes of a type sufficiently wrong to require corrections or disclosure. I’ve been following this on both your blog and his and think that reasonable people can disagree on the interpretation of what he wrote. I rarely read his blog, but do read yours quite frequently.

    Fritz (01411b)

  49. Fritz,

    Your unstated assumption is that disclosure is unnecessary unless Maye is the only (or even main) reason for Balko’s piece. Wrong. Money from the Templeton Foundation wasn’t the main or only reason a WSJ columnist mentioned the Templeton Foundation. It probably wasn’t a reason at all. Regardless, disclosure was appropriate.

    If there’s no issue here, why did Pollock feel the need to employ sophistry to answer my question? Don’t answer strawmen, Mr. Pollock. Answer my question.

    Patterico (cd65fe)

  50. Patterico –

    I’m pretty sure agenda is your word, not Balkos.

    And just because there’s a side benefit or a relationship between this project of his and another project of his doesn’t mean one was motivated by the other or that there’s any conflict or even a bias. That’s your conclusion based on your own bias.

    Your arguement that his career benefits from smearing Balko is just a joke. Any writer always benefits from doing good work.

    Gary Carson (c536f6)

  51. Incoherently said, Gary Carson.

    Patterico (31d6d6)

  52. “Balko has a pre-existing bias against Dr. Hayne, and an undisclosed agenda to discredit him. WSJ readers should have been told this. They should be told now.”

    BTW, did anyone else notice that there is a comma in that first sentence where there shouldn’t be?

    Dude (ec7eb8)

  53. The point that I, the WSJ editors, and Reason’s editors see that Patterico doesn’t is that the Hayne story dwarfs the Maye story.

    Patterico’s argument is that I wrote the Hayne story because I want to discredit Hayne, because doing so would help further my real goal, which is to get Cory Maye out of prison, which he says will help my career.

    But if the Hayne story does get Maye out of prison, it will be because the state of Mississippi has decertified Hayne as an expert, and decided to revisit prior cases in which he has testified. That means hundreds, potentially thousands of cases. And it very likely means that Cory Maye would be just one of many to have their convictions overturned. The Maye story affects one case. The Hayne story could affect the vast majority of Mississippi’s homicide cases over the last 20 years.

    In other words, if Cory Maye gets out of prison because of the Hayne story, the Hayne story itself will already have “helped my career” far more than Maye’s release possibly could. This story is much bigger than the Maye story, which renders silly the argument that I only wrote it to benefit Maye. I hope it does get Maye out of prison. I also hope it forces Mississippi’s public officials to take a long, hard look at Hayne, Dr. Michael West, and the entire broken system down there.

    Patterico can’t see how the bigger picture dwarfs the Maye case, here, because of this knee-jerk “gotcha’” reaction he has to anything he reads with my byline. And, I guess, because the assistant district attorney thinks he knows more about journalistic ethics than me, the editors at Reason, and the editors of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page (that bastion of em-ess-em liberalism!)

    Funny, though, how Patterico didn’t disclose any of his own biases in his letter to the WSJ editors. Guess he just assumed that the WSJ editors read his blog regularly, and know not only that he’s a prosecutor, but also know of his petty, ongoing grudge against me. Seems to me that’s something the editors should have known in order to properly contextualize Patterico’s allegations, no? I mean, if my alleged biases should have been disclosed, why shouldn’t his have been?

    Finally, Patterico has written over and over again that my allegations against Hayne are serious and, if true, very troubling. Yet he continues to devote his spare time to composing 2,000-word blog posts aimed at undermining the credibility of my reporting on Hayne, and diminishing its impact. And on minor, pedantic, petty matters at that.

    Apparently, his continuing, um, devotion (I dare not write “obsession!”) to discrediting me is more important to him than the considerable damage Hayne has done to Mississippi’s criminal justice system. Or, at least, of the two, the former seems to be a higher priority for him.

    Imagine if he had instead devoted all of that time and space to fostering a serious discussion on the use of expert witnesses, or on the number of interesting questions Roger Koppl raises in the sidebar to my article.

    Unlike journalistic ethics, this is something Patterico actually has some expertise in, and I and I’m sure lots of others would be interested to hear his take on the spate of forensics scandals over the years, and on what reforms he thinks would help prevent them in the future.

    Seems to me that that kind of reaction to my story would have been much more productive than these repeated ad hominem attacks on my character and judgment and, now, on the character and judgment of the editors of the Wall Street Journal.

    Radley Balko (1f1495)

  54. The idea that I care about x more than y because I write about x and not y is illogical. Does Balko care more about Hayne than his family? Than the thousands of children victimized by rapists and murderers every year in this country?

    I have no power to control the investigation into Hayne. All I can do is call for an investigation into Hayne, which I have done.

    Balko’s flaw in his logic is that, for journalistic principles of disclosure to apply, the information disclosed must be the only or main reason the piece was written. The WSJ didn’t follow that ridiculous standard in disclosing yesterday that one of the columnists had accepted money from a foundation mentioned in the column. The point of the column dwarfs the thing disclosed. But without the disclosure, readers would never know that.

    If the WSJ editors can answer my inquiry, Mr. Balko, let them do so. the sophistry employed thus far implies that they have no real response.

    Patterico (3ecc25)

  55. I was scrolling down reading the comments and I read:

    “The point that I, the WSJ editors, and Reason’s editors see that Patterico doesn’t is that the Hayne story dwarfs the Maye story.”

    … and I said to myself, “Ah, someone has hit the nail on the head,” and I scrolled down further to see who had written that. It was Radley Balko himself.

    That to my mind is the main point regarding the disclosure controversy… yes, helping further the cause of justice on the Maye case would help Balko’s career… but less so than exposing a much larger pattern of abuses of legal process and expert testimony. So to argue it’s a conflict of interest that a writer will enjoy a small boost to his career in the aftermath of tackling a bigger issue head on with the result of receiving an even much more significant amount of recognition… just always seemed a stretch.

    I know I’ve posted this thought these threads before and I stand by it.

    Further, as I explained in comment 39, at least where the Dow Jones Code of Conduct is concerned, Balko was not covered it and the WSJ editors are. I’m not sure whether they are responsible for directly determining all biases of op-ed writers prior to publication and disclosing them, but if they are, they violated their Code of Conduct, not Balko.

    This explains in human terms why the editors of the Wall Street Journal are not jumping up and agreeing with Patterico’s position. Patterico could be right, but WSJ doesn’t have the luxury of throwing Balko over the boat because Balko didn’t do anything wrong under their Code… since he never signed it.

    “The idea that I care about x more than y because I write about x and not y is illogical. Does Balko care more about Hayne than his family? Than the thousands of children victimized by rapists and murderers every year in this country?”

    Here Patterico is right and Balko is wrong.

    While Balko would understandably prefer Patterico direct his criticism elsewhere, Patterico’s criticism doesn’t mean Patterico “cares” about Balko more than other issues including justice with Hayne nor that he dislikes Balko more than unreliable witnesses.

    What it means is what Patterico has said. This angle of the story hasn’t been covered by others and Patterico finds it interesting. If Balko was more versed in Patterico’s writing, and the photo of the newspaper in the header should give it away, one of his major interests is media coverage and standards. Patterico’s been writing about this for as long as I’ve been reading him.

    A personal example of why Balko’s point is illogical on this: I’ve devoted thousands of words in comments on this issue alone, most of which closer to Balko’s position than Patterico’s. During the same time period someone close to me underwent an ongoing family crisis and requires personal support, which I am eager to give.

    But I’ve still written here and that doesn’t mean I “care” about Balko or the WSJ more than my significant other. That’s absurd and, Balko, you’ll realize this.

    After fulfilling my family responsibilities, I come here because it interests me despite it’s relative lack of importance in my life. I had more fun communicating with people like yourself who have some impact on these real justice events than I would have watching CSI. Plus the debate is an enjoyable challenge, kind of like chess.

    So Balko on this, you’re wrong and patently so.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  56. Balko just absolutely OWNED Patterico.

    And he STILL won’t address why his disclosures are suddenly irrelevant.

    Dude (bd0c71)

  57. Erwin Chemerinsky once wrote an op-ed on the Pledge of Allegiance case, without disclosing that he had helped Newdow on the case.

    The issues raised in the case and discussed by Chemerinsky dwarfed the issue raised by the fact that he had worked on the case.

    Moreover, nobody would believe for a moment that his position would be any different even if he hadn’t worked with Newdow.

    He still should have disclosed it.

    Patterico (20d279)

  58. Maybe he “should have”, but it doesn’t appear to be the current practice, does it? If things should change, then raising the issue is fine… but unless you’re arguing op-ed writers should sign Codes of Conduct before a paper publishes their work — and due to your high concern for standards and sincere attempt to follow them yourself with transparent updates and so forth this should apply to your guest bloggers or the guest bloggers of any site that wants to have itself taken seriously, like Hot Air or Huffington Post — then how do you hold op-ed writers responsible to a Code they haven’t signed?

    What do you do if they’ve breached the Code? Fire them?

    I’m just at a loss to see how this works. Perhaps it would be a significant step forward. If so, can you outline for us what you feel the standards should be and, equally importantly, how these can be applied to op-ed writers as a practical matter?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  59. Especially the second part of my question. The first I think you’ve elucidated us on, you feel they should be held to substantially the same standards as journalists.

    Okay, so how do you make it all work and impose discipline on op-ed writers?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  60. “Apparently, his continuing, um, devotion (I dare not write “obsession!”) to discrediting me . . .”

    Help, help! I’m being repressed!

    Yeah, I’m obsessed with Radley Balko . . . and the L.A. Times, and Glenn Greenwald, and Dahlia Lithwick, and Ann Coulter. And the New York Times, and Anthony Kennedy, and Think Progress, and Media Matters, and . . .

    My suggestion to those like Mr. Balko who pull out every trick in the book to direct my attention elsewhere, including the hoary suggestion that I am “obsessed”: I’ll tell you exactly how to get less attention from me — attention you clearly don’t like. The answer is not to use veiled e-mailed threats, or insults laced with profanity, or accusations of obsession.

    It’s simple.

    Make fewer mistakes. Admit the ones you do make, without whining. Be more careful in your research. Disclose hidden biases in your published writings.

    Do that, and you’ll find my attention turned to other targets who don’t.

    Patterico (4a9930)

  61. Patterico,

    Your last example again includes someone who’s had a prior relationship with the issue. [DRJ - even "pro bono" work is a previous professional relationship.] Balko has no relationship beyond his reporting.

    Which do you want disclaimed? “Balko previously wrote about a related issue” or “Balko expressed a normative judgement in a related issue”

    The WSJ replies to the former, which was my first impression as well. It is unnecessary. I feel the latter is within the scope of Balko’s relationship with Reason — which expresses all sorts of similar normative judgements. In fact I think any judge reading the article will know all of his biases from reading that line alone.

    I may have missed it previously, but what exactly is the one-line disclosure you want?

    Sean (36d4ad)

  62. Sean, Patterico has stated a recommended one line disclosure before. I can’t find it at this second. It’s reasonable and as I’ve stated before, it would have been better to include it than not if only to avoid this controversy. Plus, it would have benefited the readers.

    But the problem is Patterico wrote the WSJ and said essentially, “Look, he’s violated your own Code,” and they said, “Ummmm, Dude, he’s never signed the Code,” and now what?

    Patterico says the WSJ editors are under the Cde so presumably the violation is theirs. Okay. Now, as I’ve asked, under what practical mechanism(s) do newspapers hold op-ed writers to this Code?

    Last night there was a trivial — but amusing — violation of what Patterico says and I agree are proper ethics on this site. You can find the details in the comments here: #14 – 30.

    The thing that makes it amusing is it happened at the exact same time Patterico posted about LAT pulling one of its blog posts without explanation. And, in fact, DRJ pulled her post because she saw this post of Patterico’s — of all possible posts — and pulled hers because she didn’t want them to appear too close together.

    Innocent, but still exactly what Patterico says shouldn’t be done.

    I pointed this out, Patterico told me to calm down, and then Patterico’s guest blogger on her own saw my point, agreed with it, and posted an update to her post as I recommended.

    So even here one of his guest bloggers didn’t know Patterico’s expectations despite his posting on this very issue before.

    So where am I going with that? Patterico has a guest blogging staff of about 3, all of whom read his writing, and this minor technical violation occurred.

    WSJ and all newspapers in the country combined, plus any and all op-ed writers they give space to is a huge amount of people.

    Newspapers already imperfectly hold their employees to Codes of Conduct. Patterico thinks op-ed writers should also be held to standards.

    Okay. How?

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  63. It’s better to burn out than to fade away?

    I think Balko is attempting a reasonable debate here, not reeive a blessing.

    Hey hey my my

    alphie (99bc18)

  64. Sorry Patterico, but that was not my assumption. My assumption was that he found another story while covering the one and was clearly stated. To be honest, you seem to be trying to make a great conspiracy type thing out of this and attribute motives to people that you have no proof or even much evidence to back up. Do you have good reason to believe that someone else would have treated the Hayne story so differently had they discovered it? I don’t happen to think Balko is a great journalist and some of his reasoning is a slight stretch, but in op-ed pieces that is mostly the norm and not the exception. To be very blunt, I find some of your reasoning on this subject to be a bigger stretch than Balko’s reasoning in the Hayne piece.

    Any story has the potential to advance a journalist’s career. Using your criteria, if I understand it, would, for example, require people like Bob Woodward to add a disclosure anytime he wrote about someone or something he first heard about or became aware of when he was working the Watergate scandal.

    As to why Pollock answered the way he did, I can only speculate on that and commented that I found it odd. Such speculation might include that he was tired when he answered and didn’t pay enough attention to your letter, or he might have considered it so odd in light of what he considers proper journalistic ethics that he didn’t think it deserved a more thoughtful answer. It may even be that he is an idiot and doesn’t know better, but I think that very unlikely. My best guess would be that he dashed it off without giving it a lot of thought. Again, that is only speculation and I think Pollock did himself and you a disservice by his answer. However, I think you do yourself a disservice when you are so adamant that Balko had other motives that must be disclosed for the Hayne piece. Why is it so impossible to believe that it is simply another story he discovered when working on something else? Even if it does advance the Maye case, why is that such a problem? Would you prefer that someone was incarcerated because of poor testimony from a so-called expert witness that caused a jury to reach a wrong verdict? Now I don’t think you advocate winning at all costs and so I don’t think that you would knowingly use a witness whom you knew to be incompetent and misleading, so I don’t see your problem with the Hayne story. As I said, Balko did a less than perfect job on it, but so what? I didn’t find anything in it that I would consider to be far out of line and op-eds have a lot of leeway. If you wish to start a discussion over should op-eds have that leeway, that is a different subject, and perhaps one that should be held. I can think of a number of op-ed writers who I think should be forced to be more accurate starting with a bunch of those who work for the New York Times, and they are not the only ones.

    Fritz (7f8c69)

  65. Patterico,

    I can’t find the line that Cristoph says you’ve given before. Do you mind pointing to it or writing another?

    I apologize if I’m being daft, but I’m honestly having difficulty understanding exactly what disclosure is needed. What exactly will Balko gain beyond journalistic reputation?

    Christoph,

    My reading of the response is that the WSJ doesn’t see anything to divulge. Given their response to #1, the response to #3 is purely hypothetical. They simply don’t see a hidden agenda in Balko’s work, even after Patterico’s explanation. This particular issue is more subtle than any other example that has been given.

    Sean (36d4ad)

  66. That’s true, Sean. But even allowing for Patterico being 100% right that Balko failed to disclose a major bias, the question remains how do you hold op-ed writers to journalistic standards?

    It would seem making them sign Codes of Conduct is a starting point. Otherwise, it’s absurd to think they’re bound by a code they haven’t signed nor read.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  67. Under the Patterico standard I think every political pundit writing about any race or campaign needs to disclose (1) who they are planning to vote for and (2) with which political party, if any, they are registered.

    Moops (444e9b)

  68. The idea that I care about x more than y because I write about x and not y is illogical.

    That isn’t Balko’s argument. Balko’s argument can be boiled down to (IMO),

    The idea that I care about x more than y because I write (much?) more about x than y.

    I think one could conclude that it is a reasonable inference, again, IMO.

    Balko’s flaw in his logic is that, for journalistic principles of disclosure to apply, the information disclosed must be the only or main reason the piece was written.

    No, Balko’s contention is that your argument of benefit to his career, if his expose on Hayne is accurate is trival. Balko will benefit much more by exposing Hayne and the (possible) wide spread corruption that impacts hundreds maybe thousands of cases, some of which are death row cases. This benefit trumps the benefit derived from Maye and is obvious since that is the point of most investigative journalism (expose something unpleasant, get noted for doing so, get a career boost). Thus, the true motive is other than what you state and it renders the other motive you assign to Balko below that of a minor motive.

    By the way, Patterico has repeatedly taken Balko to task for “selective quoting” (I don’t agree that Patterico showed that there was selective quoting on Balko’s part, but that is another issue), but his quote by Patterico in his follow up letter to the WSJ is a pretty glaring example of selective quoting,

    If Dr. Hayne is discredited in the eyes of the Mississippi courts, it could lead to Maye’s case being re-evaluated. Balko has admitted on this blog that he hopes this will happen, saying: “Here’s hoping Hayne gets continued scrutiny from the state’s supreme court going forward, including when they sit to hear Cory’s case,” and “Do I hope my expose of Dr. Hayne gets Cory’s case reviewed? Absolutely.”

    The second one is part of a paragraph, that in full reads,

    Do I hope my expose of Dr. Hayne gets Cory’s case reviewed? Absolutely. But I also hope it gets about a thousand other cases reviewed, most notably the Jeffrey Havard and Devin Bennett cases, two occasions where Hayne’s testimony has put a man on death row. But getting Cory out of jail wasn’t the “main reason” I wrote that article, or I damned sure would have mentioned Cory’s case in it. I wrote the article because it’s a terrific story about persistent, longstanding corruption in Mississippi that may be sending innocent people to prison. I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I learned of Dr. Hayne through my research and reporting on Cory’s case. I didn’t disclose it in either article about Dr. Hayne because it wasn’t relevant.

    Here we have Balko explaining his motives in detail much like his comment here. Sure Maye was a minor reason, but by itself the Hayne story was more than news worthy.

    And I’ll note that in this post by Patterico, he claims in the title that the MAIN reason Balko wrote about Hayne was due to Maye. Patterico, have you retracted that statement? Your latter comments suggest you no longer hold this position? Is that accurate?

    Steve Verdon (4c0bd6)

  69. latter should be later.

    Steve Verdon (4c0bd6)


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