Times public editor comes down hard on Joe Nocera
New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote Thursday afternoon that Times columnist Joe Nocera "made some serious factual errors" in two recent columns about Warren Buffett's stance on executive compensation at Coca-Cola.
Buffett is the company's largest shareholder, and wrote a letter to Nocera to complain about the articles, copying Sullivan and others; Sullivan remarked on the Nocera columns and the letter from Buffett in a post on her Times blog.
In Nocera's first column, "Buffett Punts on Pay," Nocera incorrectly wrote that Buffett is on the company's board. (He no longer is.)
The second column, "Buffett Bites Back," was even more problematic than the first, Sullivan argues:
The entire premise of the second column is built on a mistake: that Mr. Buffett had changed his tone after “licking his wounds” over the reaction to statements he made on April 23, including Mr. Nocera’s criticism. As Mr. Nocera told it in the second column, after several days of this embarrassment passed, Mr. Buffett decided to “bite back” by going on the offensive in a Fortune interview on April 28. But that “remarkable interview” with Fortune – the so-called biting back — actually took place the same day as the initial statements, not after five days of wound-licking.
Nocera contends to Sullivan that corrections since appended to the articles were sufficient, but Sullivan interviewed Buffett about them and he told her that more is needed to even the score.
"The whole column is based on an incorrect fact – one that could easily have been checked, and wasn’t," Buffet is quoted as saying to Sullivan in her column.
Also notable in the column is the disclosure Sullivan had to write for herself:
"(Disclosure: From 1999 to 2012, I was the editor of The Buffalo News, a paper owned by Berkshire and of which Mr. Buffett is the chairman. I own no shares of Berkshire.)"
Sullivan called for Nocera to apologize for the mistakes and explain what happened in a separate column that could then be linked to the offending articles.
"Given his stature, his actions are fair game for legitimate criticism," Sullivan wrote of Buffett. "But if you’re going to impugn someone’s integrity, you’d better have your facts straight."
Contacted later, Sullivan clarified the extent of her familiarity with Buffett.
"I spoke to him very rarely when I edited the paper," she wrote in an email to Capital. "He was entirely hands off with the newsroom. But I met him a few times over the years and we've had a cordial relationship."
A note to Nocera sent late this afternoon hasn't been answered but we may update this post if it is.
Editor's note: This article was updated from an original version with additional information from Sullivan.