New York Times: Oil-Spill Story Should’ve Clarified Source’s Ties

After raising hackles with a story that questioned the severity of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, The New York Times today published an editor’s note saying the paper should have further disclosed a source’s ties to the oil industry.

A story appearing on the front page of yesterday’s Times said that the oil spill might not be all that bad:

The Deepwater Horizon blowout is not unprecedented, nor is it yet among the worst oil accidents in history. And its ultimate impact will depend on a long list of interlinked variables, including the weather, ocean currents, the properties of the oil involved and the success or failure of the frantic efforts to stanch the flow and remediate its effects.

Several media commentators, including the NYTPicker blog, the Huffington Post and ProPublica quickly jumped on the Times because one of the story’s sources had ties to the oil industry and Transocean, the company that owns the rig at the heart of the spill. Today, the Times acknowledged that it should have been clearer about the affiliation of Quenton Dokken, an expert quoted in the story. Dokken works for the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, which the paper had initially called a conservation group but which also seats a Transocean executive on its board.

Full text of the editor’s note after the jump.

A front-page news analysis article on Tuesday discussed the uncertainty over the ultimate environmental impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. One expert quoted was Quenton R. Dokken, a marine biologist who is the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation. (He said the spill “isn’t the end of the Gulf of Mexico,” but also said that “we’ve always got to ask ourselves how long can we keep heaping these insults on the gulf and having it bounce back.”)

The article described the Gulf of Mexico Foundation simply as a conservation group. It should have included more information about the organization, a nonprofit group that says its mission is “to promote and facilitate conservation of the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico and its resources” through research and other programs. While the group says the majority of its funding comes from federal and state grants, it also receives some money from the oil industry and other business interests in the gulf, and includes industry executives on its board.

Publish date: May 5, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT