How much disclosure does the media owe its readers? Two New York Times articles illuminate the complexity of this timely question: "Hidden Interests, Closer to Home," by Public Editor Margaret Sullivan (Sept. 20, 2014), and "As Wild Horses Overrun the West, Ranchers Fear Land Will Be Gobbled Up," by Times staff writer, Dave Philipps (Sept. 30, 2014).
Sullivan's and Philipps' articles bookend a discussion about think tanks exploiting op-ed pieces (or other articles) to advance policies in a way that obscures conflicts of interest. Sullivan's article clarifies the Times' position on this issue. She writes, "For [Times'] readers to evaluate ideas, they need to know where they're coming from - and who might be paying for them." A related corollary is that to evaluate ideas, readers also need access to accurate data and context.
But Philipps' story, which appeared ten days after Sullivan's essay, accomplishes neither of these objectives. In fact, it repeatedly violates them, despite Sullivan's presentation of them as essential to the Times' editorial mission.