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WaPo Offers Correction To Fiscal Times Story; Ombudsman Investigating Relationship

The New York Times has picked up the continuing story over the Washington Post/Fiscal Times content sharing agreement, and the subsequent controversy:

Facing criticism for publishing the work of a start-up news organization, The Washington Post said Tuesday that it should have disclosed more about the group’s financier and his connections, and the paper’s ombudsman said he was looking into the relationship.

The start-up, The Fiscal Times, covers economic issues, with a particular focus on the federal budget, the growing deficit and efforts to rein in health care and Social Security spending. Its financing was provided by Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire investment banker who advocates deficit reduction and restrictions on entitlement programs.

On Dec. 31, The Post published the first news article produced by The Fiscal Times, a report on the support in Washington for a proposed deficit-reduction commission. The primary expert quoted in the article is from the Concord Coalition, whose mission is also balanced budgets and limits on safety-net spending.

But the article did not mention Mr. Peterson, his backing of The Fiscal Times, that he was a co-founder of the Concord Coalition or that his foundation was a major underwriter of the coalition.

The Post actually published a correction yesterday, claiming that they should have disclosed the ties between Peterson, The Fiscal Times and The Concord Coalition. However, they plan to continue the content-sharing relationship, although the paper’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, is “looking into” the arrangement and whether it meets ethical journalistic standards.

The article makes a distinction between some of the newer content providers to newspapers and Peterson’s outfit.

Politico is owned by the Allbritton family, which has ties to prominent Republicans, and ProPublica’s financing comes primarily from Herbert and Marion Sandler, who have been major Democratic donors. What sets The Fiscal Times apart is its relatively narrow focus on issues that are also pet causes of its sponsor.

Meanwhile, the Times published its own story about the President and the budget deficit today, without the aid of The Fiscal Times. It offers a just-the-facts take on the difficulties of cutting any budget deficits while the economy still required stimulus and some of the more inviting places for fat-trimming have already been accounted for. But it does show Peter Orszag far more committed than the rest of the Administration to enacting painful cuts:

In its August review of the fiscal outlook, the administration acknowledged that without further cuts it would not reduce the deficit to about 3 percent of the size of the economy — the maximum most economists consider prudent — by the end of Mr. Obama’s term, as his first budget projected. Instead, the review of the Office of Management and Budget forecast that the fiscal year 2013 deficit would be 4.6 percent of the gross domestic product.

Mr. Orszag, the budget office’s director, told a group of business leaders in November that he was committed to reaching 3 percent of the gross domestic product by 2015, a formidable challenge since that is nearly a full percentage point below current administration projections for that year. He has since said that goal will require a bipartisan commission to force some policy changes.

“The administration faces a dual challenge: promoting job growth in the near term while also addressing our out-year deficits,” Mr. Orszag said in a statement on Tuesday. “We remain firmly committed to putting the nation back to work and also back on the path to fiscal sustainability.”

Looks like Orszag’s been reading the Fiscal Times.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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