Activist contributes to NYT story on former New Orleans cops sentencing

The Times-Picayune

For the second time in six months, The New York Times is answering questions about a freelancer who seems to be more of an activist. The Times-Picayune reports that Jordan Flaherty, who contributed to Campbell Robertson’s April 4 New York Times article about the sentencing of five former New Orleans police officers, led a demonstration last summer against the defendants.

Reached by email and telephone, Flaherty disagreed with being called a leader of the protest, but he did speak there, exhorting the crowd to chant “guilty!” 25 times after he described being in the courtroom as the former officers were convicted.

Robertson, who was unable to get into the courtroom in time, used Flaherty’s “notes of what the judge said” during the sentencing, Times Deputy National Editor Rick Lyman told the Picayune.”We were unaware that Mr. Flaherty might have been involved in public protests involving the killings and, if we had known, we would not have used him,” Lyman wrote.

This wasn’t Flaherty’s first time as a paid contributor to the Times; he contributed to one or two stories about the BP oil spill. “I’m also anti-oil spill,” he said. (He’s also written for The Washington Post and The Village Voice; he said he’s been practicing journalism for more than 15 years.)

In an email, Flaherty told me that he hasn’t participated in protests against BP, “but in my writing elsewhere — written after the NYTimes pieces — I’ve certainly been critical of BP. In all cases, I stand by my reporting as accurate and thorough and fair.”

Flaherty also questioned the Picayune’s objectivity in reporting his role at last summer’s demonstration, noting that he has been a vocal critic of the paper’s reporting on criminal justice issues.

The ex-cops were being sentenced for their roles in a post-Katrina shooting that left two dead. Flaherty says he sat in the courtroom “for several weeks” during the trial.

In October, Times freelancer Natasha Lennard was arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests; in a story posted on BigGovernment.com, Lee Stranahan argued that Lennard’s comments about the protests, made at a public forum, showed that she was part of the movement.

The Times said it had reviewed her work and found nothing suspect, but there were no plans to use her again. Lennard later said she has too many problems with what doesn’t make into mainstream reporting “to be part of such a machine.”

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  • Alfred Ingram

    When ‘objective’ reporters regurgitate police assertions without investigation, they 
    are accessories after the fact to murder and help send the innocent to prison for engaging in non-existent gun battles. When murder is committed and you accept the murderers at their word and question the credibility of the surviving victims,you turn ‘objectivity’ into a curse word and your journalism is reduced to a tool of a corrupt power structure. 

    If the activists are the only ones checking the facts, thank God for activists. 

  • Anonymous

    And I am not holding my breath waiting for Poynter to check the accuracy of the assertions that their sponsor KochFacts.com makes.

  • Anonymous

    I am struck by this statement:
    “The New York Times is answering questions about a freelancer who seems to be more of an activist.”

    In other words, one can be either a journalist OR an activist, not both. That an activist ipso facto can NOT be a journalist. (Or, at least, to whatever extent one is an activist, one is less of a journalist.)

    Mr. Beaujon seems to take this as self-evident.
    I do not.

    If Mr. Beaujon wants to allege this, he needs to do it in a journalistic way:
    How faithful to the proceedings were Mr. Flaherty’s notes?
    How complete were they?
    What did they leave out?]
    What did they emphasize?
    etc.

    Until a journalist answers these questions, he can not allege anything. Having opinions about a topic does not preclude one from practicing journalism with integrity. I daresay that Mr. Beaujon’s prejudice about activists does more to harm journalism than Mr. Flaherty’s activism.

    Similarlly, Mr. Meyers, who penned the piece on Ms. Lennert to which Mr. Beaujon links mischaracterized the cause for Ms. Lennert no longer working for the main stream media. Mr. Meyers’ headline reads: ”
    Natasha Lennard agrees: She has no place in mainstream media after supporting OWS protests”. She does NO SUCH THING. It was not because of her own support for OWS that Ms. Lennert made her choice to not work for the main stream media. It was because of their selective inclusion and exclusion of facts that she felt she could not. Mr. Beaujon more accurately reflects Ms. Lennert’s views in his quote. Again, I see Mr. Meyers’ prejudice against activism that is more dangerous to journalism than Ms. Lennert’s activism.

    Speaking of being selective, Poynter’s invocation of the term “activism” seems selective to me. I routinely see it used to refer to those who speak truth to power or reveal facts embarrassing to the rich and/or powerful. I almost never see it used to describe those that do the most harm to journalism, those whose activism does distort their narrative in discernible and obvious ways, but in the service of the rich and powerful..

    Searching on Poynter for James O’Keefe and “activ” (to return activist or activism) yields one result. Mr. Meyers penned an article through which he termed James O’Keefe a journalist. An “entrapment journalist”, but nevertheless a part of his profession. This, even though it admittedly only had “a kernel of truth”.
    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/123188/what-james-okeefe-knows-about-media-and-you-should-know-too/

    A similar search for [Andrew] Breitbart yields zero results.
    For O’Reilly, zero.
    You get the picture.

    I also find it difficult to reconcile Poynter’s taking umbrage to “activists” practicing journalism (without providing any evidence that it affected their work and asserting that it automatically disqualifies them), yet supporting NPR’s decision to not disclose when the subject of one of their reports is a corporate sponsor (when even their ombudsman admits it was a “fluff piece”). Again, selective application of the principles Poynter is supposed to uphold.

  • F. Douglas

    Why am I not surprised that the NY Times would gravitate towards activists for help with its reporting?