New York Times pitches its honeytrap reporter Ali Watkins over the side

The New York Times is doing stories on its own reporter, a perfect instance of meta-reportage, under the pious guise of how the Ali Watkins revelations of sleeping with sources – multiple sources, it turns out – "rattled the Washington media."

Really?  Never seen a news agency do a full investigative piece, full of unsourced gossip, about one of its own reporters and her love life, from all her chatty, unnamed colleagues, as straight news.  It's actually more like high school.  It also suggests that the NYT higher-ups are getting ready to get rid of her.  Maybe they care about their credibility after all, the way Abe Rosenthal once did.

Not that the long Times piece as it went out wasn't newsworthy.

Watkins, according to the New York Times story, seems to have been "doing" source after source as the Times' own resident honeytrap journalist, turning the craft of journalism into a KGB-style "swallow" or "sparrow" operation, with plenty more sources than just the now busted Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe.  Nice way to get scoops and best your competition.

Except that now the readers know.

The Times went through Watkins's career, news agency by news agency, to pretty well attempt to make each one of them look as bad as the Times itself does for hiring her as its star reporter. 

The picture they painted shows that so long as the scoops were coming, nobody in any of the cavalcade of news agencies she worked for wanted to look too closely at how she was getting those scoops, or, to put it a bit ickily, know how the sausage was made.

Skeevy sourcing is sort of the equivalent of the steroid problem in athletics or the casting couch problem in Hollywood – the results are great, the medals are won, but the whole thing is done in a conflict-of-interest way so bad that it makes such an outcome not really worth it.  It's not confined to sleeping around, either.  In the case of Wall Street Journal chief foreign correspondent Jay Solomon, apparently there was money or an improper business relationship, prompting the newspaper to swiftly fire him loudly and publicly, based on the Associated Press being hot on its heels with a story about it.

This sort of thing is embarrassing for a news organization.  Once the public finds out that the great scoops are all the product of sleeping around with sources or taking cash or gifts under the table, instead of shoe-leather research and investigation, it gets kind of creepy. 

Yet editors tolerated it at Watkins's many news organizations, including the Times, because so long as no one knew, or rather, so long as the reading public didn't know...they benefited.  Except when they didn't.

This whole story has got to be painful for Watkins, not just because of the juicy revelations about how she got her scoops, but also because the Times seems to be laying the groundwork for her upcoming firing with this story and wants to get some clicks on the side from its tabloid details.  It's possible that the Times higher-ups haven't been able to fire her based on union pushback or something like that, so they take to their own newspaper to get things done.  If that is the case, well, expect a counterattack in the Washington Post full of sympathetic stories about Watkins.  The Post, after all, would have an interest in the Times keeping Watkins on staff to ensure she stays an embarrassment, and maybe even keep attention off the potential conflicts the Post's own reporters have.  Who knows?

In any case, the Times doesn't like to be embarrassed, and the outlook doesn't look good for Watkins.  It's just interesting to see this apparent bid to spread the blame for the bad behavior of editors across the "rattled" media.

Get out the popcorn.

Image credit: Torrenegra via FlickrCC BY 2.0.

The New York Times is doing stories on its own reporter, a perfect instance of meta-reportage, under the pious guise of how the Ali Watkins revelations of sleeping with sources – multiple sources, it turns out – "rattled the Washington media."

Really?  Never seen a news agency do a full investigative piece, full of unsourced gossip, about one of its own reporters and her love life, from all her chatty, unnamed colleagues, as straight news.  It's actually more like high school.  It also suggests that the NYT higher-ups are getting ready to get rid of her.  Maybe they care about their credibility after all, the way Abe Rosenthal once did.

Not that the long Times piece as it went out wasn't newsworthy.

Watkins, according to the New York Times story, seems to have been "doing" source after source as the Times' own resident honeytrap journalist, turning the craft of journalism into a KGB-style "swallow" or "sparrow" operation, with plenty more sources than just the now busted Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe.  Nice way to get scoops and best your competition.

Except that now the readers know.

The Times went through Watkins's career, news agency by news agency, to pretty well attempt to make each one of them look as bad as the Times itself does for hiring her as its star reporter. 

The picture they painted shows that so long as the scoops were coming, nobody in any of the cavalcade of news agencies she worked for wanted to look too closely at how she was getting those scoops, or, to put it a bit ickily, know how the sausage was made.

Skeevy sourcing is sort of the equivalent of the steroid problem in athletics or the casting couch problem in Hollywood – the results are great, the medals are won, but the whole thing is done in a conflict-of-interest way so bad that it makes such an outcome not really worth it.  It's not confined to sleeping around, either.  In the case of Wall Street Journal chief foreign correspondent Jay Solomon, apparently there was money or an improper business relationship, prompting the newspaper to swiftly fire him loudly and publicly, based on the Associated Press being hot on its heels with a story about it.

This sort of thing is embarrassing for a news organization.  Once the public finds out that the great scoops are all the product of sleeping around with sources or taking cash or gifts under the table, instead of shoe-leather research and investigation, it gets kind of creepy. 

Yet editors tolerated it at Watkins's many news organizations, including the Times, because so long as no one knew, or rather, so long as the reading public didn't know...they benefited.  Except when they didn't.

This whole story has got to be painful for Watkins, not just because of the juicy revelations about how she got her scoops, but also because the Times seems to be laying the groundwork for her upcoming firing with this story and wants to get some clicks on the side from its tabloid details.  It's possible that the Times higher-ups haven't been able to fire her based on union pushback or something like that, so they take to their own newspaper to get things done.  If that is the case, well, expect a counterattack in the Washington Post full of sympathetic stories about Watkins.  The Post, after all, would have an interest in the Times keeping Watkins on staff to ensure she stays an embarrassment, and maybe even keep attention off the potential conflicts the Post's own reporters have.  Who knows?

In any case, the Times doesn't like to be embarrassed, and the outlook doesn't look good for Watkins.  It's just interesting to see this apparent bid to spread the blame for the bad behavior of editors across the "rattled" media.

Get out the popcorn.

Image credit: Torrenegra via FlickrCC BY 2.0.