The Times said in an unsigned statement Saturday that Brooks’s editors “have concluded that holding a paid position at [Aspen] presents a conflict of interest for David in writing about the work of the project, its donors or the broader issues it focuses on” and that he has resigned from the organization.
The statement also said columns by Brooks in the future will disclose his relationship with Weave. Editor’s notes will be added to previous Brooks columns to spell out his role.
Brooks’s resignation appears to resolve the primary conflict-of-interest and nondisclosure issues first raised by reporting in BuzzFeed News. But questions about Brooks and the Times remain.
The Times’ statement said the columnist’s paid relationship with Aspen was approved by his previous editors, but his current editors were unaware of the arrangement. That suggests the Times was at one point comfortable with Brooks using his column to laud a project for which he was being compensated without telling readers about his financial ties, a clear conflict of interest and breach of traditional media ethics.
The statement also makes no mention of why the Times changed its mind, though its actions follow a spate of unfavorable news articles about Brooks, a veteran journalist.
Since starting the project, Brooks has written about it on multiple occasions in the Times and mentioned it on PBS NewsHour, where he is a regular contributor. In a May 2019 column, he highlighted one of its first events and then reported on the event in another column, which was illustrated by photographs taken by a Times photographer. “The people at this gathering are some of the most compelling people I’ve ever met,” he wrote.
Times editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury declined to answer follow-up questions about Brooks on Saturday.
More questions surround Brooks’s public statements about the issue. During an appearance Friday on NewsHour, Brooks told host Judy Woodruff that he has been transparent about the matter. “We did totally disclose it,” he said. “Everything has been public.”
In fact, neither Brooks nor the Times has previously mentioned to readers that Brooks was compensated by Aspen and that Facebook was financing it. In an appearance on “Meet the Press” last March, Brooks favorably commented on the social media site NextDoor, without revealing that NextDoor is also a Weave donor, BuzzFeed reported.
Brooks also told Woodruff that he hasn’t “meaningfully written about” any of Weave’s donors in his Times column or mentioned them in his NewsHour commentaries. “It hasn’t affected my journalism,” he said.
While this is accurate about his Times and PBS work, Brooks has written guest columns for Facebook’s corporate website praising the social media giant.
A column he wrote for Facebook last month seemed to absolve the company of fostering Russian election disinformation, antisemitism and hoaxes — all of which have been documented by Times journalists. “My takeaway” from social-science research into Facebook’s role, he wrote, “is that it’s not social media that’s the problem, it’s the ideas and behavior of the people who use it.”
Brooks has not responded to requests for comment since Thursday.