When The New York Times Magazine ran an excerpt from Edmund L. Andrews’ memoir, Busted, on May 17, its editors probably felt like they’d hit a perfect combination of a subject (subprime lenders, squeezed homeowners), author (one of the paper’s own writers—an economics expert—was a victim) and zeitgeist (it was packaged as part of the magazine’s ‘Money Issue’ with the perky but accusatory Suze Orman on the cover). Sure enough, the piece was a smash, garnering more than two million hits on nytimes.com and landing atop of the site’s most emailed list.
Less than a week later, Megan McArdle of The Atlantic unearthed details about Mr. Andrews’ financial history—namely that his wife had on two separate occasions declared bankruptcy, once during her marriage to the author. Ms. McArdle argued that these facts discredit Mr. Andrews’ piece as well as the book that it was taken from, and to judge from comments online, many people agreed.
Numerous bloggers and commenters (including Clark Hoyt, The Times’ Public Editor) had their say, and Mr. Andrews issued a statement acknowledging the bankruptcies but insisting they had “nothing to do” with his family’s mortgage troubles.
On Tuesday, Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati told Off the Record that while the fact of the first bankruptcy doesn’t really bother him, he wished Mr. Andrews had included a reference to the second, because it took place in the midst of other events described in the piece.
“I would have liked to have known about it, and if I had known about it, it would have been in the piece,” Mr. Marzorati said. “But I don’t think it’s a kind of scales-fall-from-your-eyes revelation. I mean, if you read this excerpt and don’t come away thinking that both Ed and his wife have certain issues about money, I don’t think you read the piece very carefully.” Mr. Marzorati said the excerpt had been fact-checked by The Magazine’s staff.
But wasn’t the central conceit of the piece that what happened to Mr. Andrews—an upstanding, well-paid, well-informed reporter who should have known better—could have happened to anyone? Doesn’t the fact that his wife had a financially turbulent past undercut that idea?
“It’s pretty clear from the piece, whether it was ultimately Ed’s intention or not, that there were individual decisions that got them into this situation they’re in,” said Mr. Marzorati. “To be honest, I think he wants you to understand that. I don’t think he’s trying to blame the system for his problems.”
He added, “I don’t think he was keeping it out of his book because suddenly his book would have been rendered meaningless by this. I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
Brendan Curry, who edited the book for W. W. Norton, said that future editions will include an author’s note addressing the controversy. There are no plans to alter the narrative to include the bankruptcies.
Mr. Marzorati wondered if perhaps the controversy would actually help the book.
“Having this come out keeps his book in the news,” he said. “And so in some Machiavellian way makes sure that it’ll sell even more copies than it was likely to sell, which is a lot.”