The NYT’s Fesses Up to a Rip Off

The New York Times has now publicly admitted it plagiarized my investigative 7/1/2003 report for Progressive Review, “How Bush Got Bounced From Carlyle Board“, in Ron Suskind’s highly-publicized 2004 election cover story for the magazine.

So who’s accountable for the theft? Will heads roll at the Times? And how will the Times compensate the injured parties for its “unjust enrichment” from the sale of stolen work?

For the record, here’s the essence of what I first reported and what Suskind rereported, upfront and without credit to me, in his NYT magazine article of 10/17/2004:

“It is the voice of David Rubenstein, managing director and cofounder of the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm that is one of the town’s most powerful institutions and a longtime business home for the president’s father. In 1989, the catering division of Marriott was taken private and established as Caterair by a group of Carlyle investors. Several old-guard Republicans, including the former Nixon aide Fred Malek, were involved. [Click here: Scoop: SUZAN MAZUR: Bush And The Mormons]

Rubenstein described that time to a convention of pension managers in Los Angeles last year, recalling that Malek approached him and said: “There is a guy who would like to be on the board. He’s kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. . . . Needs some board positions.” Though Rubenstein didn’t think George W. Bush, then in his mid-40’s, “added much value,” he put him on the Caterair board. “Came to all the meetings,” Rubenstein told the conventioneers. “Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years: ‘You know, I’m not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don’t think you’re adding that much value to the board. You don’t know that much about the company.’ He said: ‘Well, I think I’m getting out of this business anyway. And I don’t really like it that much. So I’m probably going to resign from the board.’ And I said thanks. Didn’t think I’d ever see him again.”

To address the theft, I asked Times magazine editor-in-chief Gerald Marzorati to to run my original story in hard copy either in the magazine or daily paper as a stand-alone piece so that the million plus Times subscribers and newsstand readers would know whose work was really featured. Marzorati, who got his start in the business at the now-defunct Downtown people’s paper of record ­ the Soho News ­ refused.

The Times’ refusal led to a flurry of condemnation in the authentic media: CounterPunch, Scoop, Danny Schechter/MediaChannel.org, FAIR, Undernews, Ocnus.net and WNN — which is able to reach readers in the nooks & crannies from Papua New Guinea to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

CounterPunch: SUZAN MAZUR: The New York Times: Paper of Record and Rip-Off

Scoop: Click here: Scoop: New York Times: The Paper Of Record & Ripoff

Danny Schechter/MediaChannel.org 10/20/2004:Click here: NewsDissector.org | The Dissector’s Daily Blog

FAIR: Click here: Media Views

Ocnus. net: Click here: Not Everything That’s Fit to Print

UNDERNEWS: “How SUZAN MAZUR Got Bounced From The NY Times Mag” (9:27AM 11/2/2004)

Caught with its pants down, the Times printed the following embarrassed acknowledgment in the 11/14/2004 edition of the Sunday magazine. The clue to locating the “correction” on page 34 is its placement to the right of a reader’s response to “Without A Doubt,” just above the italicized email address for “Letters to the Editor”:

“CORRECTION: An article on Oct. 17 [gee, could that be Suskind’s?] about the role of religious faith in George W. Bush’s presidency omitted a source for a quotation from a speech by David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, an investment firm based in Washington, who placed Bush on the board of a company established by Carlyle investors in the late 1980’s. It was from an article by SUZAN MAZUR in Progressive Review.”

Contrast this with Gerry Marzorati’s email to me the afternoon of 10/18/2004:

With regard to your story, this is the first I have heard about it. We will look into it, of course, and be back in touch with you. Sincerely Gerald Marzorati”

and on the following day, 10/19/2004:

“I have spoken with the author and the fact-checking department. I believe it would have been best, as a professional courtesy, to have mentioned in the body of Ron Suskind’s piece that you first obtained the transcript [there was no transcript, I worked from a buried tape]. But it is a stretch to call this an “error,” and the idea that we would run the transcript in full after having published an 8500-word article of which part [much] of the transcript was a small part [the most memorable part] of the story [2004 election cover story] is to ask for what does not get done. The fact is that what we quoted from the transcript was gone over word for word with Carlyle [who at Carlyle?] by our researchers [who? Patrick Cliff? Ron Suskind?], and, again, while the courteous thing to do would have been to credit you with obtaining it, we have not violated fair use or plagiarized by any definition of that word.

“Would [sic] I have done is asked our website to create a link to your story online from Suskind’s story, which is receiving heavy e-mail traffic. I am sorry for any anguish this has caused you and I apologize for our sloppy journalistic manners.”

To which I replied:

“Dear Gerry Thanks for the crumbs. Really? ­ a link in the online version? I don’t think you get the picture. I consider this theft of my report.

There was no transcript. I secured a tape that was languishing for six weeks. No one cared about or reported Rubenstein’s comments or even knew who Rubenstein was until I picked up the tape. And there was no reference to Malek in the speech. That I worked out not Suskind.

Not only has the report been widely attributed to me for 15 months, but Carlyle PR Director Chris Ullman was aware a year ago that the original report for Progressive Review of the Rubenstein speech on Bush/Carlyle was mine because he called me.”

Ullman had called leaving a message to call him, which I did, and we discussed the “Bush Bounced” story: “Hi Suzan. This is Chris Ullman. U-L-L-M-A-N. I’m communications director of the Carlyle Group in Washington. It is 10 to 6PM on Tuesday the 26th [Aug. 2003] etc. . . .”

I’ve just heard from Chris Ullman again as to who at Carlyle went through the story “word for word” with whom from the Times. Ullman told me by phone that Ron Suskind contacted him to confirm what I had reported. He said Suskind asked to speak with Rubenstein but that Rubenstein was not available. Ullman said he and Suskind had a series of email exchanges.

So now that it’s official that the Times plagiarized my reporting, the focus remains:

Accountability. — Who’s ultimately to blame for the ripoff? Whose head should roll at the Times?

Unjust Enrichment. — The Times at US$3.50@ paper circulated over a million hard copies of Suskind’s cover story in the magazine, the centerpiece of the Sunday NY Times, where again, my report was the most memorable anecdote in the article. And Times mag editor Marzorati, without my first consenting, linked my online story in Progressive Review to Suskind’s piece and continued to market it via the Internet. According to Sam Smith, the “inimitable” editor of the Review who likes to keep track of numbers, the link got thousands of hits the first week Suskind’s piece was published.

Times’ ombudsman Daniel Okrent wrote me saying that he believes “credit should go where credit is due” and agreed to speak with Marzorati about a published acknowledgment, which prompted the “correction”. Okrent addressed a group at the Kennedy School of Government, which C-Span carried nationwide last week, and said that the editor ultimately bears the blame for such messes.

Does that mean Marzaroti in this case? But what if the reporting team assured the editor-in-chief the stolen report was “fair use”?

One thing is certain. The record is far from corrected, as VP Pamela Vossenas emailed me from the National Writers Union, which successfully represented freelancers in the Supreme Court case of Tasini v The New York Times. Vossenas advised she’s expedited things and directed the matter to the grievance officer at NWU. Vossenas concludes:

“I am sorry to hear what has happened to you and now it is time to hold them accountable.”


SUZAN MAZUR’s reports have appeared in the Financial Times, Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and Fox television shows. sznmzr@aol.com



More articles by:

Suzan Mazur is the author of  The Altenberg 16: An Expose’ of the Evolution Industry and of a forthcoming book on Origin of Life.  Her reports have appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur,Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC.  She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs.  For a few years along the way she was a runway fashion model, visiting Iran in 1976 as part of a US bicentennial goodwill tour of the Middle East (former CIA Director Richard Helms was then ambassador to Iran and attended the Tehren fashion gala). 


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