Last week on 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin’s character asked an actress on the show’s show-within-a-show for advice on getting another actress to come out of her shell. “Lie to her, coddle her, protect her from the real world,” she advised. “I get it!” he said. “I’ll treat her like the New York Times treats its readers!” At the time, we thought the dig was kind of mean, but we were reminded of it this morning when reading the paper’s front-page “Business” section story, “An Unwelcome Spotlight Falls on SAC Capital,” which was about the “flurry of articles” and attention the notoriously secretive hedge fund’s culture and trading practices has received “in the past two months,” following the guilty plea of one of their former employees, Richard Choo-Beng Lee, for insider trading. Weirdly, we noticed, the story completely failed to mention another flurry of articles about SAC recently, regarding a grotesque sexual harassment suit filed by SAC trader Andrew Tong against his former boss, Ping Jiang, in 2007, the court papers for which were unsealed this month.
To be sure, the suit was dismissed by the court and an employees union, complaints are always full of wild allegations that may or may not be true, and some of the details (Tong claims his Jiang penetrated his anus with whiteboard markers, for instance) are just way too colorful for the Gray Lady.
But when the papers were unsealed, news organizations such as Reuters wrote about Tong’s allegations that his boss pressured him to participate in insider trading, and the sordid details of the suit made a huge splash on the Internet, which then turned the proverbial spotlight on the culture and trading practices at SAC. Which would make mention of the suit totally relevant to the Times thesis. Right? We asked the reporter, Alex Berenson, why he had omitted mention of the scandal. “It had already been widely reported,” he said of the suit. “It just didn’t seem to rise to the level of news.”
“You could call it a throwback to the old New York Times,” he went on. “Just because it’s been reported doesn’t mean we have to put it in the paper.”
He confirmed our assumption that the apparent meritlessness of the suit was part of the reason he ignored it.
Okay, but, we said, trying not to sputter. The story is about the scrutiny and bad publicity the firm has been receiving, we protested. Regardless of whether the allegations in the complaint were true, the fact that they got a lot of attention is definitely true. So?
Berenson audibly sighed. “You read the complaint, right?” We confirmed that we had. “In the letter, he says Jiang told him, ‘Steve [Cohen, the firm’s founder] doesn’t care how we make money.’ If I was going to use anything, I would have used that,” he said.
Then we got to the real reason.
“But then I would have had to write 300 words explaining what the suit was. And the story was getting kind of long, anyway.”
So there you go, readers. The Times isn’t coddling you. It just doesn’t have room for the whole truth.