December 29, 2011 · 1 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Did the New York Times publish a “lazy rewrite” of a 2008 Reason magazine story? Both of the former Reason reporters – Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel – say so. Sanchez, who is no longer a journalist, calls New York Times reporters Jim Rutenberg and Serge Kovaleski “a couple of indolent hacks … too desperate to give the appearance of being real reporters to provide a reference and do original work.” The subject of Sanchez’s complaint: a New York Times report on newsletters which perennial presidential candidate Ron Paul sold in the late 1980s and early 1990s, newsletters which included numerous articles most people would describe as “racist” and, occasionally, “homophobic.” Sanchez and Weigel wrote a long investigative piece in Reason magazine on the Paul newsletters in 2008 when Rep. Paul (R-Texas) was running for the GOP nomination. Earlier this week the New York Times published the story by Rutenberg and Kovaleski on the newsletters and on Paul’s support among “white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists.” Sanchez calls much of the Rutenberg-Kovaleski story “a very light, very lazy rewrite of our article…, the equivalent of a rewrite by a stoned highschool student adapting a review essay for an overdue book report.” Dave Weigel, who now writes for the online magazine Slate, says Sanchez has “good reason” for his ire because “Julian Sanchez and I reported a lot of this stuff first.”
The Sanchez and Weigel accusations are serious. The former Reason reporters are not accusing the Times reporters of plagiarism, but Sanchez is accusing the Times of publishing “a sloppy paraphrase whose authors expended the bare minimum effort of getting our sources to repeat quotes anew so they could use our material without citing the original source.” Let’s see if Sanchez and Weigel are right.
I did a line-by-line comparison of the Times piece with the 2008 Reason article.
The Times reporters include a good deal of material that is not in the Reason piece, most of it recent interviews. They interviewed Paul for the piece and include numerous quotes from the interview throughout their article. They also interviewed “Don Black, director of the white nationalist Web site Stormfront,” whose organization is working for Paul in Iowa. The Reason story does not mention Stormfront. The Times writers cover a 1988 article in the Houston Post which the Reason writers did not cite, an interview Dr. Paul gave to Chris Matthews of NBC in May 2011 and a recent Weekly Standard article.
But. The Times writers also spoke to people whom Sanchez and Weigel interviewed in 2008: Mike Holmes, a former editor of the American Libertarian; Edward Crane, founder of the Cato Institute; and Carol Moore, a former opponent of Paul’s. Sanchez acknowledges in his complaint against Rutenberg and Kovaleski that Crane would be a natural go-to guy, but he writes, “I’ll eat my left shoe if the authors had the first idea who Carol Moore or Mike Holmes were before they read our piece.”
And. It wasn’t just the people to whom the Times staff spoke. The Times piece also cites articles that Sanchez and Weigel reported on in 2008. These include several posts in The New Republic, which excerpted some of the Paul newsletters. (The Times report notes that TNR has recently posted more from the old newsletters.) The Times article cites the same 1990 Liberty magazine article that Sanchez and Weigel unearthed in 2008.
Most important, Sanchez and Weigel did a lot of original reporting in 2008 to identify the probable writer of the offensive articles in the Paul newsletters. Lew Rockwell was on Paul’s payroll from the mid-198s to 2001, he was Paul’s chief-of-staff from 1978 to 1982 when Paul was a Congressman, and he “championed [Paul's] successful bid in 1988 for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination” (Times citation). Although the Times writers uses slightly different records to establish the financial relationship between Paul and Rockwell than did Sanchez and Weigel, it seems pretty clear the Times research started with, and expanded upon, the legwork the Reason writers did in 2008: the Times looked at business filings for Ron Paul & Associates from 1984 through 2001. The Reason piece cites only financial records for Ron Paul & Associates from 1985 and 2001. The Rutenberg-Kovaleski articles notes that Rockwell worked for the Paul campaign through at least 2002; Sanchez and Weigel don’t mention this connection.
Based on extensive interviews and source comparisons, the Reason writers name Rockwell as the likely author of the racist material. The Times writers don’t go there at all. They merely cite the relationship among Paul, Rockwell and a libertarian theorist named Murray Rothbard. The reader is left to infer that Rockwell and Rothbard influenced Ron Paul, not that either of them wrote articles for his newsletters. Who wrote the racist stuff? The Times reporters don’t speculate.
Sanchez and Weigel went a long way in explaining the ideological schism between old-line libertarians and “paleolibertarians.” They demonstrate how Paul became associated with the paleos:
During the period when the most incendiary items appeared — roughly 1989 to 1994 — Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives,’ producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters.
The Times‘ Rutenberg and Kovaleski cover this same relationship, albeit using different language:
After the  election, as libertarians searched for ways to broaden the appeal of their ideology, Mr. Rockwell and Mr. Rothbard advocated a coalition of libertarians and so-called paleoconservatives, who unlike hawkish ‘neocons’ were socially conservative, noninterventionist and opposed to what they viewed as state-enforced multiculturalism.
You might argue that these are just two stories covering the same phenomenon, and that is true. But it does appear that the Times reporters used the Reason article as source material. According to Sanchez, the Times writers did not do a very good job of explaining the ideological differences within the libertarian movement: “… readers got this mangled account — including an incredibly confused idea of what the faultlines in contemporary libertarianism are about, assuming anyone cares about these internecine pissing contests — rather than a simple link to a more thorough treatment” (meaning, of course, the 2008 Reason article). Weigel agrees: “Reading [the Times account], and not being familiar with libertarian kremlinology, you do get the sense that libertarians have ignored Paul’s old alliances with extremists. You have no idea that the controversy about this stuff goes all the way back to 1988, with added intensity since 2008.”
The Times reporters don’t deny they read the Reason article. In fact, near the end of the piece, they credit the 2008 Reason story for one citation:
Mr. Crane of the Cato Institute recalled comparing notes with Mr. Paul in the early 1980s about direct mail solicitations for money. When Mr. Crane said that mailing lists of people with the most extreme views seemed to draw the best response, Mr. Paul responded that he found the same thing with a list of subscribers to the Spotlight, a now-defunct publication founded by the holocaust denier Willis A. Carto.
Mr. Paul said he did not recall that conversation, which was first reported in the libertarian publication Reason, and doubted that he would have known what lists were being used on his behalf. Yet he said he would not have a problem seeking support from such a list.
This is the only place where Rutenberg and Kovaleski credit Reason. It is also the only instance in which they use exactly the same remarks that the Reason writers did. But in at least ten instances within their article, the Times writers used different citations from the same oral and written sources that Sanchez and Weigel cited.
There is no question that Jim Rutenberg, Serge Kovaleski and their two researchers (Kitty Bennett and Jack Begg) obtained and reported on a great deal of material that appeared first in the 2008 Reason article. The Times report also borrows from other recent stories about the Paul newsletters. For instance, the Times reporters cite the claim in one of Paul’s newsletters that the Israeli Mossad was responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center – a citation that came from one of the 2011 New Republic posts and has been widely quoted elsewhere.
We should be grateful that the New York Times and a host of other news outlets have brought the old Paul newsletters to the forefront again. This is a new election cycle, and Ron Paul is a frontrunner in two early-primary states: Iowa and New Hampshire. Paul has repeatedly complained about the media raising “an old story” again. But as the editors of the Des Moines Register write today,
Perhaps the reason Paul continues to be ‘pestered’ about his newsletters is that his explanations for their content strains credibility…. He was listed on mastheads as the editor and publisher. The articles in question carried no bylines, but some had personal references unique to Paul.
It is hard to accept that someone in his employ could use a newsletter bearing Paul’s name and photo to spread vile content that he did not approve of, that it could occur repeatedly over the course of several years and that Paul never once intervened.
Are Jim Rutenberg and Serge Kovaleski “a couple of indolent hacks,” as Julian Sanchez charges? That’s in the eye of the beholder. Jim Rutenberg dismissed Sanchez’ criticism: “’They’re credited in our piece,’ Rutenberg told [Politico]. ‘I don’t know what they want me to say.’” Rutenberg and Kovaleski did use a great deal of new interview material that is not reported elsewhere. They work for the New York Times, and the Times name gets newsmakers to pick up the phone. But the main subject for the Times story – the old newsletters – come from The New Republic. Who likely wrote those incendiary articles, and why Ron Paul allowed them to be published under his name, comes from the Reason story by Julian Sanchez and Dave Weigel.
If the New York Times report is a “follow-up” story, it is one that relies on a great deal of aggregation, and most of that aggregate comes from two sources. The Times writers acknowledge the New Republic posts. But their acknowledgment of their reliance on the Reason story is absent. They cop only to borrowing one citation, but they do not acknowledge their heavy debt to the bulk of the research Sanchez and Weigel did three years ago. If I had to describe what effort the Times writers and researchers put into their story, I’d say this: they fact-checked the 2008 Reason story, they interviewed five people, they wrote it up.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com