Joe Nocera Pleads Ignorance in Fiancée-Based Conflict of Interest

New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera's column last weekend excoriated H.P. and SAP, and presented Oracle in a positive light. One problem: Nocera's fiancee is the PR person for Oracle's lead attorney in its lawsuit against SAP. Woops.

In his column, Nocera took H.P. to task for hiring a former SAP board member in what Nocera called a desire to "strike back at Oracle." Oracle's currently locked in a major lawsuit with SAP over intellectual property rights. Nocera wrote that H.P.'s new board member "clearly knew about the theft" of Oracle's intellectual property by SAP, and said SAP is "obsessed with Oracle."

All in all, he made H.P. and SAP sound ridiculous and perhaps criminal, while painting Oracle as the innocents. And all of that may very well be true. The problem: this summer, Oracle hired superlawyer David Boies to work on the SAP case. That fact was widely reported. David Boies' director of communications is Dawn Schneider. And Dawn Schneider is Joe Nocera's fiancee. (Here's their baby registry. It's a boy).

We alerted the New York Times to this fact yesterday evening. About an hour later, NYT PR man Robert Christie told us that the paper had appended the following Editor's note to Nocera's column (All Things Digital posted their own item last night shortly after this note went up):

In the Talking Business column in Business Day on Saturday, Joe Nocera wrote about a lawsuit by Oracle against a division of SAP, claiming theft of intellectual property. Mr. Nocera learned after the column was published that Oracle was represented by the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where his fiancée works as director of communications. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Mr. Nocera would not have written about the case if he had known of the law firm's involvement.

Now, we are in no position to say that this explanation is not true and accurate. But it should be noted that Nocera is no fool; that he does extensive reporting for his columns; and that the Oracle-SAP lawsuit is directly referenced in this column—indeed, you could say the column is about the fallout of that lawsuit. For Nocera not to know that Boies was working for Oracle would be mildly odd. For Nocera not to know that the law firm where his fiancee is the communications director was working on the huge lawsuit that he was writing about is more than mildly odd.

I guess the lesson is: never trust your fiancee.