I still haven’t heard back from Dean Baquet as to whether I can share with you the reason he won’t let me interview him about the Swift disclosures.
As you probably recall, I sent him an e-mail (reproduced here) asking for him to answer some tough questions about the disclosures. I forthrightly told him I am opposed to the decision –indeed, that I am appalled by it — and challenged him to face questions posed by somebody from that perspective.
I initially got an auto-reply that he was out of the office, but within hours of my request, he sent back a brief note declining the invitation.
I sent back e-mails asking him to reconsider, and, in the alternative, asking for permission to publish his reason for declining the interview invitation.
Without his permission, I’m in a gray area as to whether it’s right to publish it. In my e-mail, I didn’t announce my intent to publish his reply, whatever it was. And in his response, he didn’t say whether he was speaking on the record or not.
If I were a Times columnist, I probably wouldn’t be asking permission. Steve Lopez just published a column reprinting a lengthy e-mail exchange he had with a spokesman for Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Lopez’s e-mails didn’t say that any response would be published, and the spokesman’s responses were curt, even rude — very possibly something he didn’t want to see in the newspaper. But Lopez probably figured it was assumed that any exchange was on the record, and he apparently didn’t think twice about whether to publish the e-mails.
So I suppose, that, by the standards of the newspaper, I’d be within my rights to simply reprint Mr. Baquet’s e-mail. But I’m also confident that I don’t want to tailor my actions to the standards set by this newspaper. For reasons I’ve been talking about for years, it’s better that I make up my own mind about how to handle these questions.
I try to put myself in the position of the other person, and ask myself how I would want to be treated.
It would be different if it were the Readers’ Representative. I typically assume that my exchanges with the Readers’ Rep are on the record. Sometimes I tell her I will be publishing any response, but usually it’s just assumed. She knows who I am and knows full well that whatever she writes me is almost certain to end up on my blog, as representing the official position of the paper. I am confident that she has never been surprised to see one of her e-mails reprinted on my blog. (Jamie, if I’m wrong, please correct me.)
The same is probably true of Mr. Baquet. He probably assumed he was speaking for the record.
But I didn’t make it clear. And he and I don’t have a track record for how to handle such issues. So now I feel stuck asking for permission to reprint his e-mail, because possibly — just possibly — he intended it to be a private communication.
But I wish he’d clear it up. I understand he’s probably on vacation, but he responded to my initial request within hours, and it’s been three days since I asked him if I could publish the reason.
I would love to share his reason with you. To me, it is very revealing, and indicates a desire to avoid tough questions.
I’m guessing he realizes this, and I’m probably never going to get a response to my request to publish it.
That doesn’t seem right. I’m happy to keep it private if that’s how he intended it. But he should tell me one way or another.
UPDATE: A couple points are in order.
First, a commenter notes that, while Mr. Baquet may have responded quickly to my earlier e-mail, he may have been taking care of last-minute business on his way out the door. And he is, after all, on vacation. So while his initial response to me was quite quick, there may be valid reasons for his not getting back to me yet on my follow-up question.
So I am going to cut the guy some slack. There’s no reason not to be polite, after all.
Also, in that vein: I thought it was clear from my post that I intend to await his permission. I offered the counterarguments only to show my recognition that I am probably being, if anything, too cautious. But that’s still what I intend to do. I’ll revisit the issue on July 11, when he returns to the office, if he hasn’t already responded to me. After that, if he still doesn’t respond after a suitable time, I’ll take that as a wish that the e-mail remain private.
It seems like the right way to handle it. It may not be the way the paper handles things. But that’s how I’m going to handle it.