Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the New York Times editorial page, may not think the issue of disclosure in Daphne Merkin’s op-ed about Bernard Madoff is “substantive”. But it looks like the paper’s public editor disagrees.
To explain: Last month, the Times published an op-ed by Daphne Merkin, a contributing writer to the Times Magazine, in which she argued that Madoff’s victims weren’t really victims because “no one was holding a gun to anyone’s head.”
Merkin is the sister of Ezra Merkin, the prominent financier who was the second-largest institutional investor in Madoff’s funds, and has since been charged with fraud for allegedly lying to investors about how much of their money he had put with Madoff. But Daphne Merkin’s parenthetical disclosure in the op-ed — “I did not know Mr. Madoff nor did I invest with his firm, but have a sibling who did business with him” — didn’t come anywhere close to fully informing readers about the nature of that tie.
When we asked Rosenthal about this earlier this week, he was dismissive, saying he had no plans to offer more disclosure, and adding: “I answered this call against my better judgment. I thought you had something more substantive you wanted to talk about.”
Now the paper’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, has weighed in, as he told us he would. And he seems to view the issue as substantive enough.
Hoyt concludes that it “seems obvious to me” that there should have been “a lot more” disclosure. He calls Daphne Merkin’s “mini-acknowledgment” — which he says was worked out with Times editors — “about as forthcoming as saying that Milton Eisenhower had a sibling in the United States Army in World War II.”
Hoyt points out:
Ezra Merkin is a major figure in the scandal his sister wrote about, though no one has charged that he knew Madoff was a con man. Even before Daphne Merkin wrote her article, Ezra had resigned as chairman of GMAC, the financial arm of General Motors, and was being sued by New York University and other institutions that suffered because he funneled their money to Madoff.
David Shipley, the editor of the op-ed page, tells Hoyt that he thinks there was enough disclosure, and adds that Daphne Merkin didn’t propose writing the column. Rather, the paper asked her to, in part because she is writing a book on money and Jewish life in New York.
But this misses the point. The issue is the amount of disclosure, not the decision to have Daphne Merkin write the op-ed, which, speaking for ourselves, we had no problem with.
And as facile and self-serving arguments go, they don’t get much better than this. Writes Hoyt:
Shipley said he thought it was sufficient and the proof was the number of people writing in who obviously got the Merkins’ relationship and were outraged that The Times would have her addressing the Madoff scandal.
As Hoyt puts it in response:
But many readers would not have made the connection, and those who did, far from being satisfied, felt as though the disclosure was so limited as to be disingenuous.
As for Rosenthal, Hoyt writes that he “said he thought there could have been more disclosure.”
Just not enough, based on what he told us, to actually, you know, do anything about it.