Tough morning for former New York Times, current Portfolio, reporter Kurt Eichenwald. This morning brings an extraordinary yet difficult-to-parse Times editors' note about his famous kiddie cam-whore story from December, 2005. We already knew that Eichenwald took a while to identify himself as a reporter, so as not to spook the wee one. But now the Times says that after the reporter finally met tiny-hustler Justin Berry in person, he cut him a check for $2000. (That's like, 20 times the rate Justin charged to pose for pictures in his underwear!) What's odd is that it's never made clear why Eichenwald sent the cash, which was later repaid by a family member. For starters, wasn't the whole point of the story that the kid was raking it in?
An article by Kurt Eichenwald on Dec. 19, 2005, reported on a teenage boy's sexual exploitation on the Internet, and an accompanying Reporter's Essay by Mr. Eichenwald published on nytimes.com explained the details of his initial contact with the subject.
The essay was intended to describe how Mr. Eichenwald persuaded Justin Berry, then 18, to talk about his situation. But Mr. Eichenwald did not disclose to his editors or readers that he had sent Mr. Berry a $2,000 check. Mr. Eichenwald said he was trying to maintain contact out of concern for a young man in danger, and did not consider himself to be acting as a journalist when he sent the check.
Mr. Eichenwald explained in his essay that, at the outset, he did not identify himself to Mr. Berry as a reporter. After they met in person, but before he decided that he wanted to write an article, Mr. Eichenwald said he told the youth that the money would have to be returned. Times policy forbids paying the subjects of articles for information or interviews. A member of Mr. Berry's family helped repay the $2,000.
The check emerged as part of a criminal proceeding involving Mr. Berry in which a Michigan man is charged with criminal sexual conduct, enticing a minor to commit immoral acts and distributing child pornography. The trial began yesterday.
The check should have been disclosed to editors and readers, like the other actions on the youth's behalf that Mr. Eichenwald, who left The Times last fall, described in his article and essay.
We sort of love that "didn't consider himself to be acting as a journalist" when he cut the check part; we're pretty sure he went the other way when he cashed the check he received for the story. Also, the whole "before he decided" to write the story thing? Making laborious contact to meet with an teen internet cam whore is called working on a story. Of course, Judy Miller said the same thing about meeting with Scooter Libby, didn't she?
Or is the Times implying that this wasn't a work-related project somehow? This is where the logic of the editors' note evaporates. Also: weird. A lot weirder than Kristof buying prostitutes.
Anyway, them's the breaks, Kurt. At least you've still got that Payne Award. You know, the one for "courageously practicing the highest standards of the profession in the face of political or economic pressures."