Michael Chertoff is Not to be Trusted, part 564
WHEN The Times interviewed Michael Chertoff about airport security after the underwear bomber tried to blow up a passenger jet on Christmas Day, he said full-body scanners should be deployed at airports. Chertoff, the former secretary of homeland security, did not volunteer that he is a consultant to a company that makes such equipment, and though they spoke to him twice, reporters never asked if he had a financial stake in the matter.
Chertoff, who championed full-body scanners as head of the Department of Homeland Security, long before he went into private business, said it was no secret that he had become a consultant to corporate clients through the Chertoff Group, a risk-management firm he formed in March. He said that when two Times reporters, Eric Liptonand John Schwartz, called and the subject turned to scanners, it was up to them to ask whether he had ties to that industry. “I always answer when I’m asked,” he said. “But I don’t think it is my obligation to put myself in the head of a reporter” to decide what the reporter needs to know.
Chertoff did tell NPR and CNN interviewers when they asked.
Lipton and Schwartz agreed that they should have asked Chertoff, but both expressed disappointment that he did not volunteer obviously germane information. Bob Steele, a professor at DePauw University and a journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute, said, “I believe a source does have an affirmative obligation to reveal any competing loyalties, even if the source isn’t sure they create a direct conflict of interest.”
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,” he 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.
[Click to continue reading The Public Editor – The Sources’ Stake in the News – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com]
How about stop pretending political hacks like Chertoff even have anything relevant to add to the conversation in the first place? Start by assuming they always have a conflict of interest, and that’s why they agreed to be quoted.
The NYT appended the following mushy Editor’s Note below their Chertoff story:
Editors’ Note: January 15, 2010
Articles on Dec. 28, 29 and 30, about the apparent bombing attempt on a flight to Detroit, discussed the use of full-body scanners for airport security. They cited Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of homeland security, as supporting wider use of the scanners. Mr. Chertoff has confirmed in several recent interviews that a manufacturer of the devices is a client of his consulting company. That connection should have been noted in the articles.