Integrity Matters
May 21, 2003

New York Times lives up to ethical obligations

Question: (E-046)
The New York Times has just apologized for the fraudulent work of one of its reporters. That is all well and good. But the Times enjoys a public trust, and surely they have a responsibility to spot check or verify the work of their featured writers to ensure that such a fiasco is never allowed to happen. At the end of the day, it seems that you cannot trust what you see on television, or what you read in newspapers. What do you think?

Please do not overreact to the dishonesty of a writer for the New York Times. There are rotten apples everywhere, and this fraud was caught. Further, in what turns out to be thorough follow-up, the very same newspaper confronted its errors and exposed its own vulnerabilities for what they were and are: human. Con artists come in lots of forms, including writers.

Several years ago, Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol acknowledged that a few of their packages had been compromised and that rather than risk any further harm to the public, that every Tylenol product would be removed from the shelves, everywhere and immediately. It had taken responsibility for the crisis and avoided permanent disaster. Today, in part because of the Tylenol crisis, Johnson & Johnson has enhanced it stellar position in the world of business and integrity.

The Times may have set a similar standard of honesty and integrity with its ownership and accountability of its own blunders: publishing materials that had not been verified and hiring and retaining a dishonest and unprofessional news writer. To be sure, its own follow-up investigation and subsequent reporting of the story was hard-hitting and offered no excuses. The Times has committed to addressing its own vulnerabilities.

Based upon the definition of integrity provided by the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership, the New York Times has thus far lived up to every promise in this crisis that we counsel leaders to fulfill. Upon careful reading of our definition, and assuming the Times management team continues to follow through, they will be able to stand tall in the arena of responsible and responsive leadership: “Integrity is congruence between what you say and what you do, as well as what you say about what you did. Integrity is the keystone of leadership. The keystone holds the enterprise together at its most critical junction, where ideas, products and services meet the customer.”

Based upon what the Times has done to rectify its mistakes, which is to maintain your confidence (and our confidence) in our freedom of the press, then we should applaud their efforts to regulate themselves.

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