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NYTimes: what Milberg story?

In recent years the New York Times, especially its Sunday business section, have positioned itself as the most tireless of diggers on the business corruption and white-collar-crime beat. In the early days of many scandals, from Enron on down, the paper has provided saturation coverage which signaled to the rest of the press that the stories were of long-lasting importance. At the same time, given the Times's fondness for stories lamenting the fate of victimized investors, it was perhaps inevitable that the law firm of Milberg Weiss featured regularly as a source in its news columns, lawyers from that firm being showcased favorably with some frequency.

So what has happened in the four days since Milberg was itself the subject of a dramatic 20-count federal indictment?

You might think that by now the Times would have published a whole raft of news stories on the scandal. There would be profiles of the firm itself and of indicted partners David Bershad and Steven Schulman; news analyses on the implications for Milberg, its competitors and the companies it sues and has sued; reaction roundups based on interviews with other lawyers, legal ethicists, and business people; explanatory graphics and sidebars on the mechanics of how class actions work; and feature profiles of interesting personalities in the case such as informant Howard Vogel and U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang. There would be a sternly moralistic editorial or two suggesting that however the case turned out, the industry of class-action-filing clearly needed its stables cleaned out. Columnists and op-ed writers would have chimed in.

In fact, none of this has happened. According to a search of NYTimes.com, the following is the sum total of what the Times has published since last Thursday on the Milberg case:

* On May 19, a medium-sized news story on the indictment by NYT reporter Julie Creswell. The piece was accorded front-page placement, but lacked sidebars, timelines, or other indicia signaling a "big" story.

* On May 20, a five-sentence recap of the story in a summary of business highlights of the week, adding approximately nothing to what had gone before.

* On May 21 -- a bulging Sunday paper -- nothing whatsoever, in particular not a word in the Sunday Business section.

* On May 22, a Reuters report on a major new development in the case, a guilty plea by Los Angeles lawyer Richard Purtich, who said he'd served as a conduit for Milberg payoffs. Then, late in the day, another Reuters dispatch on how the Republicans might be using the scandal as an issue this fall because of Milberg's lopsidedly Democratic donation record. No pieces drawing on the Times's own reporting resources; indeed, nothing of that description had run since the indictment at all, save for the one first-day piece.

Now, it's always possible that the Times has been saving it up, and will burst out in coming days with richly reported, multi-level coverage, followed by editorials, Gretchen Morgenson columns and so forth, much as if this were a "real" scandal that might cast reproach on the business sector. For now, however, one might suspect that the Times's crack corps of business-scandal journalists is just kind of embarrassed by the whole Milberg story and wishes it would go away.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.