How New York Burned Its Plastic-Surgery Source

Anonymous sources can usually put some faith in the journalistic principle, that the anonymity of a source is a sacred thing, to be protected even at the risk of jail. But they should have less faith in a reporter's competence. Last week, a New York Times reporter withheld the name of a critic of the Chinese government but gave him away accidentally by mentioning the restaurant he owned. And there's an equally moronic slip in this week's cover story on plastic surgery in New York magazine.

For this week's examination of the ideal surgically-enhanced face, New York's Jonathan Van Meter spoke with the publisher of a fashion magazine. 'When I told her I was working on a piece about plastic surgery, she leaned in and whispered, "You must talk to David Rosenberg." Then my friend, who will turn 60 next spring, confessed that she had just plunked down a $4,000 deposit and will be going under Rosenberg's knife for a face-lift later this year. All told, it will cost her $30,000, including recovery in a fancy hotel and a private nurse attending to her every need.'

The source's name wasn't explicitly revealed in the piece, but there simply aren't that many fashion magazines; there are fewer female publishers; and a basic Nexis search shows that Elle's Carol Smith (pictured here next to New York's plastic-surgery cover) turns 60 in May 2009. In case there was any doubt, Van Meter's "friend" was once his colleague at Vibe magazine, where he was editor and she was publisher in the early 1990s. It didn't take long for Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici to make the connection, and extract an embarrassing admission from the Elle publisher that she was the one with the birthday plastic-surgery plans.

According to Bercovici, Van Meter declined to confirm whether Smith was the publisher in question. Given the obvious clues he so carelessly left, his belated discretion is redundant.