Monday, April 20, 2015

NYT's Friedman-Endowed Israel Fellowships Issued at Stanford

How many current opinion columnists for any American newspaper have created and endowed a fellowship, other than controversial Tom Friedman who occupies precious real estate on the New York Times's Op-Ed page? None, that I'm aware of and if you know of any, please share their names with me.

(Friedman, 2013 fellow Maya Kornberg, Shultz.)

A story last week in the Stanford Daily by Qitong Cao shed light on a fellowship that began with funding from Friedman and his wife Ann Friedman, and is actively supported by former Republican secretary of state Henry Kissinger:

"Winners of the 2015 George and Charlotte Shultz Fellowship for Modern Israel Studies were announced Wednesday morning during a breakfast reception at Hillel. George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, both former U.S. Secretaries of State, attended the reception, emphasizing the significance of conducting field study in Israel. [...]

The Hillel at Stanford web site shares this info about how the fellowship began:

"Thanks to the generosity of Stanford alumna Ann Friedman and her husband, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Hillel at Stanford is pleased to establish the George and Charlotte Shultz Fellowship in Modern Israel Studies to support student research on issues relevant to modern Israel and the betterment of Israeli-Arab relations. Each year, Hillel at Stanford will award a $5,000 fellowship to a Stanford student to conduct research pertaining to modern Israeli politics, culture, society, and economy, and/or the betterment of Israeli-Arab relations (including Israeli-Palestinian relations). [...] Upon completion of the projects, research reports will be sent to both Tom Friedman and George Shultz."

Among those on the fellowship's review committee is another former Republican secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, making it very clear this endeavor has conservative political leanings.

Since this fellowship began with funding from the Friedmans, and may still be receiving donations from the New York Times columnist and his wife, and research from fellows is shared with Friedman as part of the program, I believe it would be more accurate and honest to call this the Shultz and Friedman Fellowship.

So, is Friedman's involvement with Stanford and the fellowship kosher according the the New York Times' ethical guidelines? I think yes, even if it might be a gray area since Friedman is not a body making decisions. Here's what the NYT ethical journalism guide says:

"Normally the restriction on joining trustee boards or advisory committees will not apply to organizations that are highly unlikely to generate news of interest to The Times and that do not generally seek to shape public policy. These typically include houses of worship, community charities, local libraries, fine arts groups, hobby groups, youth athletic leagues, country clubs and alumni groups. Within reason staff members may help such groups with relatively modest fundraising. They should not play a leading role or ever lead a donor to expect a favor in return. [...] Staff members should think carefully about their own contributions to various causes, bearing in mind the need for neutrality on divisive issues."

An argument can be made that the fellowship is about shaping public policy and on a number of highly divisive issues, but since Friedman isn't in charge of who gets a research grant or how the students' finding will be used, Friedman's editors approved his participation in the fellowship.

What are your thoughts about this? Do you think Friedman has violated either the Times' or general ethical journalism rules?

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