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Times' Editors Publicly Resign - Former Unscrupulous Reporters Quietly Hired Back


On June 5, 2003, the media world was shocked by reports that two top editors of the New York Times resigned because of the scandal relating to plagiarism and fabricated stories by a Times' reporter. But it escaped media attention that another NY Times reporter, Timothy L. O'Brien, who resigned amidst allegations of dubious reporting in early 2000, was quietly hired back this year and reports for the NY Times' internet edition.

Jayson Blair - 2003
resigned May 1 after he was found by the Times to have "committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud."

Timothy L. O'Brien - 1999
: "access to the the Times pages to settle personal scores is a fringe benefit available to NYT reporters."

On May 20, 2003, published an editorial which stated that "the current scandal embroiling The New York Times and the fabrications of Jayson Blair, a young reporter assigned to its National Desk, have drawn inevitable comparisons" (The New York Times Scandal Recalls Glass Episode staff, May 5, 2003) to the case of another reporter, Stephen Glass, a former associate editor of The New Republic and a nationally recognized up-and-coming journalist, having contributed pieces to Harper's Magazine, Slate and Rolling Stone. Similarly to the NY Times' reporter, Glass fabricated a story about a 15-year-old hacker blackmailing a software company. The story turned out to be "pure fiction", says Forbes, and The New Republic subsequently fired Glass as fabrications were eventually found, or suspected, in a large portion of his work.

Phonney journalism by dirty reporters in any major publication obviously delivers a tremendous blow to the credibility of the media in toto. But we don't have to go that far and perhaps it is more significant  that the current NY Times scandal reminds one of past incidents of bogus reporting in The New York Times itself.

On August 19, 1999, Timothy L. O’Brien, the then NY Times rising star business reporter broke the front-page story that "billions of dollars have been channeled through the Bank of New York in the last year in what is believed  to be a major money laundering operation by Russian organized crime." (Activity at Bank Raises Suspicions of Russian Mob Tie. NY Times) The story launched an unprecedented media exposure of Russian organized crime's financial machinations in the US.

However on January 17, 2000, O’Brien published an incredible retraction suggesting that the New York Times and other press may have been drawing information from a source which O’Brien claimed is tainted, to wit, Emanuel Zeltser, Director of the American Russian Law Institute. Soon thereafter facts surfaced suggesting that the Times' January 17, 2001 article was O'Brien's private vendetta against Zeltser, his former prime source, for sharing information with reporters from The Wall Street Journal, O'Brien's former employer. Prior to working for the Times', O'Brien resigned from the Journal under inauspicious circumstances.

Richard Tofel, a spokesman for the Wall Street Journal commented on O'Brien's article: "We were both surprised and disappointed that Tim O'Brien would be writing about us and himself," adding that "it is rarely a good idea in a news story for the subject and the reporter to be the same person."

In an open letter to the editors of the Times, Emily Topol, a prominent Russian-American newscaster, wrote: "I note with sorrow that your Tim O'Brien  was correct when he boasted that  "access to the the Times pages to settle personal scores was a fringe benefit available to NYT reporters." On its face O'Brien's article appears to be a pathetic attempt to punish a former front page source for sharing information with other reporters and to spook off members of competing media from the source, which Tim views as "his exclusive".

Another prominent Russian TV reporter, Maria Berdnikova described O'Brien's article as "yellow journalism at its worst."

"The real dirt in the Bank of New York story isn't only its subject - the Russian mafia - but the strife between a reporter and his source", wrote Brill's Content, a media critique monthly magazine. 

"Is Timothy O'Brien of the New York Times an aggressive reporter -- or simply aggressive?" asked the New York Post in its PageSix column "Emanuel Zeltser, a lawyer and board member of the American Russian Law Institute, charges O'Brien went "out of control" last August when he learned Zeltser, one of his best sources, was talking to the Wall Street Journal and other papers."  (Source Turns on Times Reporter (NY Post, Jan. 17, 2000)

Also, questions have been raised as to whether O'Brien's  improbable reporting had been influenced by corrupt Moscow bankers and public officials who sought to hush investigations into the Russian mob's money laundering through the Bank of New York. Moscow News, one of Russia's oldest and most respected English language weeklies wrote: "Timothy O'Brien, who opened the "Russiangate" hysteria in August of last year and then "raised doubts" about his source in January of this year, now, more vigorously than anyone else predicts new scandalous revelations. It is as though he is trying to buy forgiveness for his sin." (Case # 914 (Moscow News, Feb. 22, 2000.))

It was becoming apparent that the Times could no longer afford the once front page business reporter who broke the Bank of New York-Russian money laundering story. Editors attempted a compromise. First O'Brien was put on book review detail. ("Capitalism Russian-style" (By Thane Gustafson, cloth, $54.95; paper, $19.95); NY Times, February 6, 2000; by Timothy L. Obrien) A few weeks later O’Brien was further downgraded from Russia-related books to reviewing Russian restaurants -- compelled to write a "breaking story" about chicken Kiev in Manhattan’s Russian Samovar (Borscht and Small Talk; Restaurant Serves as a Russian Island in Manhattan. NY Times, April 16; by Timothy L. O'Brien) Nothing seemed to have worked however and on April 26, O’Brien’s departure from the Times was the talk around New York’s newsrooms. 

For awhile, O'Brien was employed at the now bygone Talk Magazine. Then, for almost two years he appeared to have vanished. O'Brien resurfaced however in January of this year ... as a reporter for none other than The New York Times.

"With the loss of the New York Times' top two news executives in a plagiarism scandal, the paper must now restore its credibility with readers and revamp its fractious newsroom culture, editors and journalism experts say," AP reported today. (Experts: Times Must Restore Credibility (AP, June 6, 2003))

Hiring back reporters, who were once let go for incredible reporting will unlikely help in this uneasy task.


True Story Behind O'Brien's Story



Pulitzer-winning reporter Rick Bragg  resigned from the New York Times May 28, after his heavy use of a stringer to report a feature he wrote on Florida oystermen (AP Photo)

Former New York Times Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld, will return to the newspaper as interim executive editor, replacing Howell Raines, who resigned along with Managing Editor Gerald Boyd on June 5, 2003. Lelyveld led the paper in winning 12 Pulitzer Prizes before retiring two years ago.


Former Executive Editor of the New York Times Howell Raines resigned from the newspaper on June 5, 2003. Dogged by an unrelenting scandal sparked by a former young reporter who plagiarized and fabricated dozens of stories at the nation's most influential newspaper, Raines resigned Thursday along with Managing Editor Gerald Boyd.

Former Managing Editor of the New York Times Gerald Boyd  resigned from the newspaper on June 5, 2003,  dogged by an unrelenting scandal.


Another case of 
fraudulent reporting




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