New York Times turns blind eye to Panama Papers

Published: April 7, 2016

Commentary by
JOE EVANS

If I told you, hypothetically, that an international money-laundering scandal involving political figures, international criminals and athletes was to break, would you expect to find it in a big newspaper like The New York Times?

As a senior journalism major with a pretty good grasp of what is or is not newsworthy, I would argue that a story as big as the hypothetical situation above should be on the front page, probably above the fold.

So, it turns out the hypothetical situation I mentioned before is actually a real huge international leak that occurred. An offshore money-laundering operation linked to political officials like Russian president Vladimir Putin and Icelandic prime minister Davíð Gunnlaugsson (who resigned Tuesday in light of the scandal), film and T.V. entertainers like Jackie Chan and Simon Cowell, as well as various heads of state or political officials from over twenty countries around the world somehow was relegated to page three of The New York Times.

As this leak started being reported and coming to light, the U.S. media as a whole essentially ignored the biggest story in the world for about two days. The revealing of the information in the Panama Papers led the news in Europe, South America and most of Asia (aside from the Great Firewall of communist China) reeled from the reveal of an offshore money laundering operation worth an estimated $2 billion. Something like that is not just a foreign story. This touches every nation in the world due to the pure news value and relevancy of it.

So why is it that the biggest paper in the U.S., and possibly the world, treated this story as if it wasn’t a huge, important development?

My theory goes back to the origin of the Panama Papers story. This began as most leaks do; an encrypted message to a media outlet. A reporter at a small paper in Germany received a message asking if he was interested in the story. From there, the paper reached out to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, who took the leak under their wing.

From their, they cultivated sources, dug through millions of raw documents and data and built a network of news throughout Europe, one of the biggest being British newspaper The Guardian.

Now, while I find it surprising that The New York Times was not included in the list of contacts for a story of this magnitude, I find the NYT’s response to the story after the fact ever more baffling.

While other papers took the huge, breaking news of the Panama Papers and ran with the story on their front page, such as USA Today, the NYT relegated the story to the third page, along with CNN and The Washington Post largely ignoring or pulling small pieces off the AP wire without a second thought.

While that is problematic enough, the real issue comes in with the defensive editorial the NYT published defending their lack of action in treating the Panama Papers with the proper new value it deserved.

Not only did they ignore the initial break of the biggest documents leak since the Edward Snowden NSA leak, but then they published a piece defending their poor decision making.

Stuff like this might be the reason the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists snubbed the NYT in the first place.

Maybe if the American media (excluding USA Today, in this particular case) would pull their heads out of their collective posteriors and acknowledge that news outside the U.S. and not broken by them is worth a front page spot, they would have gotten included in the initial breaking of the story.

Contact the writer: joseph.evans2@scranton.edu

One Response to New York Times turns blind eye to Panama Papers

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