There were a few particularly glaring problems with Hoyt's response. First, he dismissed criticisms that Times reporter Laurie Goodstein had relied on attorney Jeffrey Anderson as her main source, without mentioning the fact that Anderson proudly proclaims that he has filed over 1,500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church. Moreover, Hoyt himself failed to mention that, three days before his article appeared, Anderson filed yet another lawsuit against the Vatican—this one concerning the subject of Goodstein's story.
Second, Hoyt never explained why he asked Goodstein if her article was written "at the instigation of the lawyers" if he thought there was no problem with her reliance on Anderson.
And finally, Hoyt didn't explain how Goodstein happened to be investigating a decades-old case that had been discussed at great length in the Wisconsin media years ago.
Now, however, we have answers to these puzzling questions—and they have come from the New York Times itself.
In "A Frenzied Pace for Lawyer Behind Vatican Suits," a profile of Jeffrey Anderson published on April 27, 2010, Monica Davey writes (in the second paragraph of the piece):
Mr. Anderson, 62, has been filing suits against priests and bishops since 1983 and, at least once before, against the Vatican itself. But a new wave of accusations reaching ever closer to Rome has emerged in recent weeks, helped along, in part, by Mr. Anderson’s discovery of previously undisclosed documents [emphasis mine].
Davey saves the full reveal, however, for the 16th paragraph of the 24-paragraph piece:
The New York Times was working on a different article last month when a reporter contacted Mr. Anderson. He provided documents about the Murphy case describing how efforts by Wisconsin church officials to subject Father Murphy to a canonical trial and remove him from the priesthood were halted after he wrote a letter to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, asking for a cessation of the trial [emphases mine].
So, according to the Times' own reporting, Laurie Goodstein was not working on a story about the Father Murphy case, but a different story altogether. That explains the third problem with Clark Hoyt's response.
On the second problem, however, Mr. Hoyt's response now appears woefully inadequate. A month before Mr. Anderson filed his latest lawsuit against the Vatican, Goodstein "was working on a different article" when she "contacted Mr. Anderson," who gave her "documents about the Murphy case"—documents which form the core of Anderson's lawsuit.
At the very least, this calls into question Goodstein's claim that "her article was not done at the instigation of the lawyers." Mr. Anderson's key role in bringing about Goodstein's story at a time when he was preparing to sue the Vatican over the subject of the story makes both Mr. Hoyt's unquestioning acceptance of Goodstein's claim and his failure to mention Anderson's latest lawsuit inexcusable.
To her credit, Monica Davey interviewed Jeffrey Lena, a U.S. lawyer who represents the Vatican and who has extensive experience with Mr. Anderson and his techniques. Mr. Lena perfectly encapsulates the problem with Goodstein's reliance on Mr. Anderson:
“It [Anderson providing the documents to Goodstein a month before filing his lawsuit] shows,” Mr. Lena said, “how you can both create a media frenzy, and then capitalize on it. Jeff is very, very good at creating intense media interest, and then shaping a narrative for the press to write their stories around.” He added later: “He serves these media events up like nice little meals for reporters to chow down on, and they do."
Monica Davey's story provides the missing link that explains some of the problems in Goodstein's original story—problems that I pointed out at the time. Goodstein's own story was contradicted by the very documents that Anderson gave to her—but her story fits Mr. Anderson's interpretation of those documents to a tee.
Thus, whatever else Goodstein's article might have been, it wasn't objective reporting. That makes her failure to note the extent—1,500 lawsuits!—of Mr. Anderson's admitted bias all the more glaring. And it makes Mr. Hoyt's defense of her article—and his omission of any mention of Anderson's latest lawsuit—all the more disturbing.