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Opinion ‘You avoid Fake News that way’: New York Times reporter socks it to EPA press office

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
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In preparation for a long-form investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to chemical regulations, New York Times reporter Eric Lipton needed confirmation on a particular fact — namely, that Michael Dourson, the president’s choice to head up the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, was already at work before securing Senate confirmation, as first reported by E&E News. So he sent an email to Liz Bowman, of the EPA’s press shop. The inquiry, which was shared with the Erik Wemple Blog:

Subject: Can you confirm re Dourson, re adviser to the administrator.
1) Can you confirm this please. “Dr. Dourson’s title is adviser to the administrator,” an EPA spokesman said yesterday evening.
2) Can you tell me what day he started in this role, please.
Thanks in advance

Bowman replied:

1) Can you confirm this please. “Dr. Dourson’s title is adviser to the administrator,” an EPA spokesman said yesterday evening.
We will refer you to this story in USA Today:
2) Can you tell me what day he started in this role, please.
E&E News reported this and you should cite them:

That’s upside-down PR-ing. Lipton was seeking the official word from a federal agency, not Internet news links. In the experience of the Erik Wemple Blog, spokespeople generally thank reporters for seeking official confirmation of already reported facts. It saves them the labor of having to seek corrections and retractions of bogus stories that get published and aggregated.

In that spirit, Lipton replied:

Thanks for this.
So that to me is confirmation from the EPA that he is working at EPA and that he arrived this week.
Appreciate your help.

Jahan Wilcox, who works in the EPA communications office, then jumped in to offer this thought:

If you want to steal work from other outlets and pretend like it’s your own reporting that is your decision.


My job is to get direct confirmation of facts.
I do not rely on other news outlets, repeating what they have reported, without getting direct confirmation.
You avoid Fake News that way.


So that to me is confirmation from the NYT that Eric Lipton will be properly quoting his sources (USA Today and E&E News).

Wilcox (cc’ing reporters from USA Today and from E&E News):

Adding the two outlets who you want to steal their work from to this email.

As it happened, Lipton’s story didn’t cite either of these stories in connection with Dourson. However, it was a 6,000-word investigation of the EPA, of which this personnel matter was a teeny bit. Also, reporting on Dourson’s status at EPA had already been picked up by other outlets, to the point that it was a congealed public fact. Though it’s always nice to link to other people’s stories, this was no violation of intellectual property norms.

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What is extra-normal here, however, is the notion that a federal agency would be preemptively refereeing protocols for story credit among media outlets. Talk about regulatory overreach!

Asked for his take on the matter, Wilcox emailed the Erik Wemple Blog, “Work should be properly cited, not taken from other outlets.”

Post media critic Erik Wemple frequently skewerws Fox News, and, well, some of the network's loyal viewers have something to say about it. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

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