Now we know why tweeting cancer chronicler Lisa Bonchek Adams was so blindsided by the critical columns ex-New York Times editor Bill Keller and his wife, Emma, wrote about her last week: The duo approached Adams as a friend and offered her lodgings during her treatment in New York.
In a lengthy note today explaining why Emma Keller's column on Adams was pulled down from the Guardian's website, readers' editor Chris Elliott states that Adams felt the piece "completely misrepresented the nature of her illness and her reasons for tweeting, was riddled with inaccuracies, and quoted from a private direct message to Keller through Twitter published without permission."
Adams' sense of betrayal, and Emma Keller's apparent errors of fact, are both rooted in that Twitter DM conversation: Keller, it seems, never asked the questions a reporter should have. "Emma never gave any indication whatsoever to Lisa that she was writing a piece about her," someone close to Adams told Gawker. "Nor did she ask any questions, or make any inquiries of a journalistic nature." Instead, Emma Keller first approached her subject posing as a friend who just wanted to help, offering something of material value.
"I did offer her a place to stay during a clinical trial. At the time I had no intention of writing about her and it was the gesture of one cancer patient to another," Keller now says, deep down in the recesses of Elliott's column.
Gawker has learned that the "place to stay" was an apartment that Bill and Emma Keller own in New York. According to real estate records, the Kellers own two units in their Upper West Side building: the penthouse and a sixth-floor apartment.
Adams politely declined the Kellers' offer.
However, it raises additional questions about both the Kellers' columns. What role did Bill Keller play in the offer of his lodgings to Adams before writing about her for the Times? Would that violate the Times' editorial guidelines, which bar reporters from offering "financial advice" and some other forms of assistance to sources?
Likewise, what role did Emma Keller's offer of assistance to a story subject play in the Guardian's decision to take down her piece? The paper's editorial code of ethics states that some circumstances allow for "offers of hospitality" to sources—subject to approval by the editor-in-chief or managing editor, and not in a manner that involves "subterfuge."
We've asked Bill Keller, the Guardian, and the Times for a response on these points; we'll update this post if we receive any.