New York Times Refuses to Comment on Why It Didn’t Disclose Alan Schwarz Associate Producer Role in Chris Nowinski Film

Email Exchange With Alan Schwarz of New York Times, Associate Producer of ‘Head Games’ Film (Part 2, ‘Game Within the Head Games’)
May 7, 2012
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May 7, 2012

Alan Schwarz of The New York Times, who almost exactly a year ago took great umbrage at my comparing his relationship with Chris Nowinski to that between the co-authors of the bestselling book Freakonomics, has become exactly what he insisted he wasn’t in May 2011 (and what, by the way, I had never accused him of being): a business partner of Nowinski’s.

Schwarz is the associate producer of the new documentary, Head Games. See today’s earlier posts, beginning with this one.

More later on all the things Schwarz is and isn’t. First, let’s get The New York Times’ explanation.

Eileen Murphy, vice president for corporate communications, told me:

The New York Times has a detailed and comprehensive ethics policy.  There is a specific section that deals with consulting agreements on films or television programs.   

It states: “Staff members offered consulting agreements by agents, producers, studios or others must consult the standards editor or the deputy editorial page editor before accepting.  No staff member may serve as a consultant to a film or program that he or she knows in advance is tendentious or clearly distorts the underlying facts.  In no case should a consulting role be described in a way that invokes The Times or implies its endorsement or participation.”

Alan’s role on Head Games was approved in advance and meets with all other aspects of this policy.

Murphy did not answer my second question: why The Times didn’t disclose to readers Schwarz’s involvement in the Nowinski film project after Schwarz, who had putatively left the concussion beat, continued to byline stories on such subjects as the Dave Duerson family’s recent lawsuit against the National Football League.

When I suggested that Times standards editor Phil Corbett might be asked for a fuller explanation, Murphy got testy: “Thank you for your instructions on how to do my job…. We’re not commenting further on this.”

So on to the next post in this series, probably tomorrow, which will be headlined “The Alan Schwarz Files.” Meanwhile, I don’t advise anyone to hold his breath waiting for commentary by Arthur S. Brisbane, the Times ombudsman (or, as the Gray Lady calls that position, with perfectly pitched pomposity, The Public Editor). The Public Editor’s column, you see, is better suited for things like busting freelancers who accepted perks while working on travel articles. Times ethics are like NCAA compliance – meant for the players more than the coaches.


Irv Muchnick

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick