Stubbornness can lead to some outstanding journalism. But it also can cause journalists to stand by stories that need to be corrected or re-examined.
I think it’s time to say the New York Times is just being stubborn in its refusal to update or correct its inaccurate 2007 story about Pari Livermore.
Nearly three months after Nancy Levine, a potential client of Livermore’s, called to Times editors’ attention the failings of the 2007 story, five different journalists have investigated Livermore’s matchmaking efforts and the “charitable” donations she asks clients to make in return for her service. (And I’m not counting August and October posts on this blog.) All of the investigations, including a post Sunday by Marc Gunther in Nonprofit Chronicles, have found the same thing: Livermore’s favored “charity,” Spotlight on Heroes, has never been registered as a charity.
Unless all of these investigations are wrong, the Times should correct its story.
The technicality Times editors cite in not correcting or even re-examining the 2007 Times story by Stephanie Rosenbloom is that it did not mention Spotlight on Heroes. But the whole premise of the story was Livermore’s blend of matchmaking and philanthropy. The story referred to the 2007 Red & White Ball as a “charity event,” even though 2007 promotional materials for the ball directed ticket buyers to make out their $175 checks to Spotlight on Heroes. I don’t know of any journalism ethical code, including the Times’ Standards and Ethics, that doesn’t require correcting errors, and that “charity event” reference clearly was an error, even if you don’t think a fundamentally flawed eight-year-old story needs deeper re-examination.
I’m not going to revisit here all the points I made in the earlier posts. But I do want to call the attention of journalists who write about charities to two helpful resources Gunther cited:
- Lawyer Gene Takagi‘s Nonprofit Law 101 for Journalists
- The IRS page for checking whether a nonprofit is registered
I’m also posting to note the Gunther piece and the other four investigations of Livermore and Spotlight on Heroes (three of which I’ve noted in earlier posts):
- Nonprofit Quarterly’s Fund-Raising for Unregistered Charity: a Simple Mistake or Something More by Amy Butcher. (The Butcher and Gunther pieces both cited and linked to my blog.)
- Daily Beast’s Where Is the Matchmaker’s Charity Money? by Cerise Castle
- Marin Independent Journal’s San Rafael celebrity matchmaker’s fundraising practices questioned by Richard Halstead
- BuzzFeed’s Famous Matchmaker’s Pet Charity Wasn’t A Charity At All by Kendall Taggart
As disappointing as the Times’ response to Levine’s call for a correction has been, I am pleased that other journalists have filled the void with strong investigative and explanatory journalism.
This eight-year-old puff piece the Times has stubbornly refused to correct may not seem like a big deal, certainly not as important as hundreds of stories the Times has pursued stubbornly in the face of considerable obstacles, producing some of the best investigative journalism in history. But this passage from Gunther’s post nails why the Times should correct this story:
As Albert Einstein has said: ‘Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted important matters.’
Response note: I included responses from Livermore and Times editors in previous posts, particularly the Oct. 6 post, which included a lengthy response from Times Standards Editor Phil Corbett as well as a response from Livermore. I didn’t invite response before posting today, since this post doesn’t report anything new, other than linking to the Gunther and Butcher pieces. I will invite their response to this post and update if any have anything more to say.
Update: Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has blogged about the Livermore story.