The Times ran a special editors' note this morning accusing one of its freelancers of twisting the truth "to fit his theme, contrary to the Times' standards of integrity." The writer, Paul Burnham Finney, apparently distorted an American Psychological Association survey to reflect his article's thesis that business travel and the Wall Street meltdown are stressing people out more than anything else. In fact, the survey showed the economy generally is stressing people out. Also, he rewrote a therapist's quote to also be more specific in the same way, the paper said. Having developed something of a history running false stories, the Times seems to have been eager to get out in front of this one, running its correction barely one week after the original article came out — quite a speedy timeframe for deciding one of your contributors is a liar. The full editor's note is after the jump.
An article in the Itineraries pages last Tuesday reported about the increasing stress on business travelers, and cited the findings of “Stress in America,” an annual survey of the American Psychological Association. That survey found that economic factors were the leading causes of stress levels in 2008, but it did not say, as the article did, that “the crisis on Wall Street was the No. 1 cause of anxiety,” nor did participants in the survey say they felt most vulnerable to stress “in the office and on a business trip.”
The survey included data from Sept. 19 to Sept. 23, 2008, a period of volatility on Wall Street, but none of the questions in the association’s survey referred to Wall Street or any economic crises. Participants were not asked how business travel affected their stress levels or where they felt most vulnerable to stress. The author of the article distorted the survey’s findings to fit his theme, contrary to The Times’s standards of integrity.
The article also quoted incorrectly from a comment by Nancy Molitor, a psychologist in Wilmette, Ill., who told the author that, “In my 20 years of practice I’ve never seen such anxiety among my patients,” not “among my banking and business patients.” While Dr. Molitor does have patients in banking and business, she did not single them out as being more anxious than her other patients.