While on a Fox News Sunday panel, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny received feedback from right-wing radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham on how the Times should cover the controversy over the terrorist attack in Benghazi during which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. This seems to be in conflict with Times guidance against its staff members making appearances that could undermine the impartiality of the paper's journalism.
Discussing the Benghazi attack, Ingraham lectured Zeleny on how the Times should be covering the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks, asking if the paper was "camped outside" of U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice's home to question her on whether she was a "sacrificial lamb" for the Obama administration.
Ingraham's query is based on a false interpretation of what the ambassador said in the days immediately following the attack, which insists that Rice made an unequivocal statement that the attack was spontaneous. In fact, Rice was making a "current best assessment" based on information available at the time. On the issue of the Benghazi attack, conservative media have been trying to create a media narrative where the Obama administration receives the blame.
As Ingraham was telling Zeleny where the Times should station its reporters, Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward quipped to Zeleny, "It's great that you have another assignment editor."
Zeleny's Fox appearance today seems to clash with the Times' ethics policy, which counsels against staffers appearing in forums that express a viewpoint beyond the type of reporting and analysis published in the newspaper. The policy states:
Staff members may appear from time to time on local or national radio and television programs devoted to public affairs, but they should avoid expressing views that go beyond the news and analysis that could properly appear under their regular bylines. Op-Ed columnists and editorial writers enjoy more leeway than others in speaking publicly, because their business is expressing opinions. They should nevertheless choose carefully the forums in which they appear and protect the impartiality of our journalism.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday in this manner certainly appears to lend the Times imprimatur to the program, which is well known for forwarding conservative misinformation, both from its hosts and panelists.
The Times is an established, widely read publication with wide influence. Does it really need to have one of its reporters appear on a panel where he is given on-air instructions on how to cover the news by a right-wing ideologue?