LESSIG v NYT (Archived)

In a long and personal essay about MIT’s decision to take money from the criminal Jeffrey Epstein, I expressly criticize MIT for taking Epstein’s money,  summarizing the argument like this:

it was a mistake to take [Epstein’s money], even if anonymous.

Yet in an article intended to explain my essay, the New York Times titles the pieceA Harvard Professor Doubles Down: If you take Epstein’s Money, Do It In Secret,” and then the lede opens with:

It is hard to defend soliciting donations from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor, has been trying.

These statements are compelling. They are also false. And they are false with the purpose of creating clickbait — a snippet of text that drives traffic to an article and hence a set of ads.

Unchecked, clickbait corrupts journalism. I have brought this case to challenge that corruption. The incentives to use clickbait are real. The return from clickbait is substantial. So long as the headlines and ledes are true, there is no harm. When they are false — and when, upon notice, that falsity is not corrected — there should be consequences enough to create the incentive to do better the next time. .

I will follow the case in a  new podcast, The Law, such as it is. (Not just this case, but that is its beginning.) You can find the podcast here. Or sign up for email updates below.

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