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An Open Letter to the New York Times

An Open Letter to the New York Times
By Centers for Better Insurance • Issue #43 • View online
Integrity Means Holding Yourself to the Same Standards as You Hold Others

Last year, The New York Times proudly and passionately led the fight to compel U.S. Treasury to release detailed records on the nearly 5 million small businesses participating in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Thanks to The Times’ commitment of its money, journalistic resources and reputation, anyone is now free to look up the name and address of each participant, the amount it borrowed under the program, the number of its employees and often the owner’s ethnicity, gender, and veteran status.  The Times justified its demand for invasive transparency on the grounds that “[t]he requested records will provide insight into which businesses received these loans” and “will contribute to the public’s understanding of this debate about federal government activity.”
This year, The Times finds itself unable to conjure any passion for the unmasking of participants in another of U.S. Treasury’s disaster relief programs: The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). Treasury recently sought public comment whether it should publicly identify participants in TRIA similar to how The Times’ lawsuit forced it to disclose the names of participants in PPP.
Rather than again claim the role of champion for transparency, The Times has deferred to one of its retainers, Marsh & McLennan, to implore Treasury that information about participants in TRIA “should not be made available to the public.” Marsh protests it would be “completely unfair” for an insurance company participating in TRIA to be placed “in the position of having to either succumb to a dissemination of what might be confidential and proprietary information or give up TRIP coverage.”
How could it be that The New York Times pulled out all the stops to hunt down and expose small businesses that participated in PPP, yet is perfectly comfortable for the identities of insurance companies participating in TRIA to remain secret?
The answer is as unsurprising as it is disappointing: The New York Times does not appear on the list of PPP participants it fought so hard to expose, but its insurance subsidiary is one of the largest participants in TRIA.  
The New York Times incorporated Midtown Insurance Company within 6 months after TRIA became law. Over the last 18 years, it has used this “captive insurance company” to shift more than $900 million of risk off its balance sheet and quietly onto the balance sheets of small businesses, nonprofits, local governments and other commercial property and casualty insurance policyholders. It pays Marsh & McLennan to manage Midtown Insurance Company and, it would seem, fight against the same transparency The Times demands of others.
Our fundamental purpose is to protect the impartiality and neutrality of The Times and the integrity of its report. In many instances, merely applying that purpose with common sense will point to the ethical course. Sometimes the answer is self-evident. Simply asking oneself whether a course of action might damage the paper’s reputation is often enough to gauge whether the action is appropriate.
Good advice. Now act on it by supporting the same level of transparency over yourself and your fellow Fortune 1000 companies as you sued to force upon the Small Business 5 Million.
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