The New York Times finally reports on CPSIA

by Walter Olson on November 2, 2009

[Bumped Monday a.m. for readers who missed it over the weekend]

The piece appears in the business section of Saturday’s Times, and it’s a perfectly good one as far as it goes. It starts off with a wooden toy maker in Ogunquit, Maine, who estimates that it would cost him $30,000 to secure testing for the 80 items he makes, using such materials as maple, walnut oil and local beeswax. It touches on the strains between large and small manufacturers, nytimesas well as the thrift-store and vintage-book angles. Overall, it’s really not a bad piece of its sort.

Aside from its timing, that is. The Times has now gotten around to covering some of the harm done by this law ten months after the Washington Post and other media had begun reporting the basic outlines of the story; nine and a half months after a furor had built to national proportions, prompting both members of Congress and the CPSC to hurry out supposed clarifications; nine months after hundreds of bloggers were on the case, the law’s effects on thrift stores were making headlines from coast to coast, and the Times’s continuing failure to report on the law’s effects had commentators noting its “weird blind spot” on the issue; eight and a half months after a deeply clueless Times editorial assailed critics of the law who The Times wakes up“foment needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises like libraries, resale shops and handmade toy businesses”; seven and a half months after protests by minibike dealers began drawing wide national coverage; seven months after critics rallied on Capitol Hill, and the Washington Post joined in reporting on the law’s dire effects on vintage (pre-1985) kids’ books; and so on to the present.

Okay, so the Times was — well, not a day late and a dollar short, but more like 300 days late and many billions of dollars in overlooked costs short. Still, let’s be grateful: the paper’s news side has now implicitly rebuked the editorial side’s fantastic, ideologically blinkered dismissal of “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”. And the Times’s belated acknowledgment of the story can serve as permission for other sectors of the media dependent on Times coverage — including some magazines and network news departments — to acknowledge at last the legitimacy of the story and begin according serious attention to the continuing CPSIA calamity. When they do, they will find much to catch up on. (& welcome Handmade Toy Alliance, Chris Fountain readers)

PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE from Ethel Everett, illustrator, Nursery Rhymes (1900), courtesy ChildrensLibrary.org.

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11.01.09 at 9:12 pm

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1 VMS 10.31.09 at 3:41 pm

Walter, you surely don’t advocate suing the NY Times and its editors for their clear negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and/or willfulness, or alternatively upon an implied contract theory, or alternatively on a breach of the newspaper’s fiduciary duty to the public, its readers and those dependent on Times coverage for not reporting this story for 10 months after coverage by other newspapers, even when “other sectors of the media [are] dependent on Times coverage.”

Back in 6th grade (1972), all members of the class were required to subscribe to the NY Times and bring their copy to class every day as part of the journalism lessons of my sixth grade instruction. The teacher, Mrs. Murov, posed the following question to the class: “What is the primary function of a newspaper?”

I raised my hand and answered: “To make money for its shareholders!”

I was chastised, and told that it was to accurately report on and disseminate the news, and to set forth the paper’s point of view in the editorial section. An argument ensued.

I stood by my answer then, and still do to this day. Whether or not the Times (or any othe newspaper) wishes to timely report on a story is their prerogative. The editors have a duty to no one but the corporation’s officers, directors, and ultimately their shareholders. They may have an indirect duty to keep their readership, but I’m sure that they are indeed printing “all the news that’s fit to print” as determined by their editors.

As you admitted, the Washington Post and “other media” reported the story in a timely fashion. If you want to read the nitty gritty about “Thug Shot Granny in the Bronx,” I would suggest that you read the NY Post and not the Times. If you want the details about Ford selling Volvo, may I suggest the Wall Street Journal over the Times.
If you want timely reporting on the CPSIA, read the Washington Post, or better yet the WSJ. So what am I missing?

2 Doug 10.31.09 at 4:15 pm

Hmmm, don’t their say “all the news that is fit to print”?

3 John 10.31.09 at 4:29 pm

VMS,

absent laws defining the “primary function of a newspaper”, it would seem to be up to the individual newspaper to define this. The NY Times offers us the following:

The Core Purpose and Core Values of the Company

The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

The core values that enable the Company to achieve its core purpose are:

1. Content of the highest quality and integrity. This is the basis for the Company’s reputation and the means by which it fulfills the public trust and its customers’ expectations.
2. Fair treatment of employees based on respect, accountability and standards of excellence.
3. Creating long-term stockholder value through investment and constancy of purpose.
4. Good corporate citizenship.

As a long time subscriber, and one who has been severely impacted by this rotten law, I have been deeply disappointed by their lack of CPSIA coverage. That said, I almost fell out of my chair when I opened the paper this morning.

4 Jonathan Bailey 10.31.09 at 9:18 pm

@John,

The reason the NY Times is circling the drain is the order in which they have listed their core purposes. Number 3 should be number 1, number 1 should be 2 (and how they achieve 1). Number 2 is what we should expecrt of any company and 4, what the heck does 4 even mean? In other words, their priorities are in the wrong order.

5 rxc 11.01.09 at 10:21 am

It took this long for the Times to distinguish grass-roots efforts to have their voices heard, from Astroturf. Just like the current efforts to slow down health-care reform are driven by “astro-turfing”, and the AGW skeptics.

Eventually the “astroturf” is going to grow so high that the Times and its supporters will be left behind in the grass, with no idea where to go next…

6 Juan 11.01.09 at 11:40 am

@VMS if that is what you were thinking in 6th grade then I can only say what a sad childhood you must have had.

7 Melvin H. 11.01.09 at 3:04 pm

Methinks, Juan, YOU had the “sad childhood”!
Simply put, while I disagree with what has largely happened at the NYT, VMS is right: It is a company with shareholders, and to stay in business it must make money, both for itself and its shareholders. And that is where Mr. Bailey’s amendment of what John listed as the Company’s “core values” is correct.

8 Gary 11.01.09 at 4:51 pm

I guess I had a dyslexic moment. At first glance, I thought this was about the CSPIA — the Child Support Performance Incentives Act — which has turned out to be a terrible law for children, or at least men. It essentially tells courts to ignore what’s best for the children and make custody decisions based on how much federal money the state will receive. I should’ve known no one cares about that…

9 Wendy 11.01.09 at 11:31 pm

“These groups are not above using the small crafters to reopen the legislation and get the changes they want.” Cowles quote

Who are “these groups” to which Ms. Cowles refers? Large companies have accomplished exactly what they would like and will only see their profits rise as competition wanes. As an example Mattel is granted the right to their own testing, while the rest of us wait to see what a certified lab actually looks like.

What is it exactly Ms. Cowles believes, the small crafters are incapable of grouping together to fight a overzealous law that will bankrupt them while not making children any safer?

It is disturbing that our government has been so disdainful of small business with this law, from the CPSC director telling us that all us “mommy bloggers” got it wrong last year and now that small business is simply a tool of, of whom I’m not clear.

Why can these groups not understand the devastation they are wreaking on what should be the core of American entrepreneurship.

10 GregS 11.02.09 at 11:41 am

The CPSIA is the perfect law for our times. It fits perfectly with the spirit of active hostility towards entrepreneurship coming from the White House and Congress.

11 William Nuesslein 11.02.09 at 2:12 pm

For VMS,

You are absolutely right. The Times has its right to determine what is news for its pages. We all know of NIMBY where no matter what is proposed there will be a significant protest. The safety of the Yucca mountain is depository was settle decades ago, but anti-nike activists keep coming up with potential scenarios starting 100,000 years from now. Secondly, there general standards for handling lead that would instill fear to an average person. Then there was a death in Minnesota of a child who swallowed a lead trinket. Certainly risk of death of children trumps risk of loss to handicraft firms. Arguably CPSIA is not the story that Mr. Olson claims it to be. But mr. Olson is right, and the Times made a colossal editorial mistake again.

Where the Times failed this time is that it did not test these assumptions above. How many lead trinkets are there? How many children have been injured? If just one, perhaps there is more to that story from Minnesota than lead poisoning.

Just how much of a book is consumed by any child. Children mostly slobber on books instead of ingesting them. Are there any cases of children being harmed by lead poisoning from books, stuffed toys, etc.?

Lastly, bicycles are banned because of the brass in the values in the air stems. Good Grief When is enough, enough?

12 Tom T. 11.02.09 at 5:18 pm

FWIW, Consumer Reports was still extolling the unmitigated virtues of the CPSIA in its latest issue.

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