The New York Times has printed yet another story about itself, and the best thing we can say about it is at least there’s no mention of Judith Miller. The apparent scandal this time is that a corporation has had the nerve to prevent a Times reporter from attending its shareholder meeting.
Now, at one time or another, we’ve all found ourselves shut out of closed meetings held by unenlightened lunkheads who can’t see the benefit of having a reporter in attendance. When this happens, we usually stomp our feet, throw a fit, and then set ourselves to the task of getting the story some other way.
But not the Times. When a Times reporter has a door slammed in his face, the reporter must strike back by filing a story that allows him to vent his personal humiliation. So it was that reporter Richard Siklos reported today that “a New York Times reporter” wasn’t allowed to sit in on a meeting held by a company called IDT Corporation.
Siklos writes that IDT, a telecommunications and entertainment outfit, “has drawn attention [especially from Siklos, we suppose, since he was the only reporter to cover the meeting] on several fronts, including its foray into making movies and some disputes surrounding its long-distance telephone business.” That is attention that the company apparently would rather do without. Which is pretty fishy, according to Siklos, who quotes a corporate governance watchdog as follows: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and companies that have nothing to hide welcome the press.”
That is a pretty serious allegation, and we’d be applauding Siklos if he’d provided any evidence to suggest that IDT does in fact have something to hide. Instead, he seems to have spent his afternoon pathologically plotting against the flacks who turned him away.
So, that spokeswoman said that IDT never lets reporters cover its meetings, eh? Oh yeah? He-he. It does so! The “newspaper archives indicate that reporters from New Jersey newspapers attended IDT’s annual meetings in 1997 and 2000.” And the spokeswoman “said the company’s director of media relations was on his way to discuss the matter but was parking his car.” Really? Nah-ahh, you meany spokeswoman lady! The media relations man “had not appeared more than an hour after the meeting began, and calls to a cellphone number provided for him went into a voice mail box that was full.” So take that!
Don’t get us wrong. We are sympathetic to the notion that a public company ought to be open to public scrutiny. But as Siklos’ watchdog pointed out, it is not unprecedented for a company to bar reporters from shareholder meetings. And there are no regulations requiring public companies to open their meetings to the general public.
More importantly, we wonder why Siklos is wasting time having a tit-for-tat spat on the pages of his newspaper instead of digging up some real information about this company. As it is, only in the second-to-last paragraph do we get this slim piece of real news: “Shareholders who attended the meeting said [CEO James A.] Courter was questioned about executive compensation and other governance issues.”
Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.
Siklos is a good reporter. We wish he’d given us a story we could care about and spared us the ire.