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Chertoff Taken To Task By NYT Ethics Watchdog
Posted By Mary Jacoby On January 17, 2010 @ 9:46 pm In News | Comments Disabled
The New York Times ombudsman in a column Sunday said former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff should be more forthcoming about his relevant clients when speaking with the news media.
Chertoff, who is also a former appeals court judge and was a head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the Bush administration, told the Times in recent articles that more body scanners should be installed in airports. The Times reporters, Eric Lipton and John Schwartz, were following up  on the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the accused “underwear bomber” who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day.
The Times reporters failed to note that Chertoff is a consultant to a manufacturer of the scanning devices, resulting in this  Jan. 15 Editor’s Note.
The reporters didn’t ask Chertoff about his clients, and he didn’t volunteer the information, the Times’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote. Chertoff represents a manufacturer through the Chertoff Group , a risk-management firm he formed in March, Hoyt wrote.
“I always answer when I’m asked,” Chertoff told Hoyt. “But I don’t think it is my obligation to put myself in the head of a reporter” and pose the questions.
Chertoff did tell NPR and CNN interviewers about his business relationship when they asked, Hoyt reported.
Interestingly, Chertoff wrote an Op-Ed article  for The Washington Post, published New Year’s Day, that carried a one-sentence biography divulging that his clients included a scanner manufacturer — a note he said he volunteered.
“If I’m affirmatively getting out there,” [Chertoff] said, as opposed to being called by a reporter, “I make it my business to disclose.”
That’s a distinction I don’t buy. What difference does it make whether a source seeks a forum or a reporter happens to call? Knowing Washington’s culture of revolving doors and news spin, the Times reporters should have asked the obvious question. But if Chertoff had a connection he thought the public needed to know in one instance, he should have made it clear in the others.
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