NPR's David Folkenflik advances the sad Kurt Eichenwald story today with the revelation that the former New York Times award-winning investigative reporter suffered "severe memory disruptions" from epilepsy — which made him forget paying child-pornography story source, minor Justin Berry, over three thousand dollars via Berry's internet pornography site. The revelations of those payments undermined the story — seen as a coup for the Times — and cast a cloud over Eichenwald, who had since jumped to Portfolio as a marqee writer.
According to Folkenflik, Eichenwald had had a reputation for meticulous reporting and care at the Times, which made his claim of "forgetting" those payments especially suspect amongst his colleagues. Eichenwald claims that the extra level of care was to guard against lapses in his memory: "I believed that I had enough of a reputation and enough of a track record that, when I say to other journalists, 'I don't remember,' that they could simply accept that -- or prove me wrong," Eichenwald told Folkenflik.
The NYT's problem, however, is less with the story itself than with Eichenwald's extreme advocacy, to the point of participating online in some of Berry's endeavors. Per NYT business editor Larry Ingrassia:
"The subsequent disclosures about pseudonyms and payments have been disturbing, and we have said so. ... To date, while Kurt's behavior has been challenged, his account of how minors can be exploited by customers and operators of pornographic websites has stood up."
Another revelation: Crusading journalist Debbie Nathan, doggedly on the Eichenwald beat for pubs like New York magazine and Salon did not disclose the fact that she is a board member as well as a donor for the National Center for Reason and Justice, according to Folkenflik "a not-for-profit group that distributes money to help the legal filings of people it says have been wrongly convicted of child sexual abuse," including Father Paul Shanley, "the most notorious figure in Boston's Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal." Weird detail in a story that already has that covered.
Like I said, Folkenflik's interview advances this story...to an even sadder place, where he can have a neurologist testifying to the effects of his epilepsy and still not quite shake the cloud of suspicion that has been over him. When the Justin Berry story came out in December 2005, Eichenwald and his story was celebrated; then the triumphant move to Portfolio followed by a touted cover story on terrorism...that was held after the first revelations of the payments came out. Then he left Portfolio. His story never ran.
Folkenflik's piece aired today on "All Things Considered" and will be available at 7pm on NPR.org.
Update: Listen here.