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NYT Public Editor Blasts Arrillaga-Andreessen Magazine Feature for 'Clear' Conflict of Interest

"A disclosure would not have been enough."

Kimberly White / Getty

If you picked up a copy of this month’s T, the New York Times’ style magazine, you might have perused a big, splashy feature article titled “The Transformers,” about five visionary tech entrepreneurs.

And if you saw the byline on one piece about Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, you might have noticed it was penned by another prominent Silicon Valley figure: Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, the wife of Marc Andreessen, the famous entrepreneur and now powerful venture capitalist.

In a post today, the New York Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, certainly did and not in a good way, especially since Andreessen Horowitz has a $112 million investment in the online home-renting company.

Sullivan noted that not only was there a big problem in that there was no disclosure (a very big issue, for sure), but that the magazine should have selected a different writer altogether for the feature.

“This is a case in which the financial conflict is so clear, and the spousal tie so close, that a disclosure would not have been enough,” Sullivan wrote. “A different writer altogether would have been a far better idea, and, to my mind, the only right one.”

Sullivan also noted that the article gave “extremely favorable” coverage to Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, who has spent the whole month putting out PR fires related to a Wall Street Journal investigation that revealed serious technological setbacks at the $9 billion biotech startup.

Responding to Sullivan, T Editor Deborah Needleman acknowledged that the magazine should have appended a disclosure — again, it’s pretty shocking that it was not there — but she defended her decision to have Arrillaga-Andreessen write the article.

“I disagree that we shouldn’t have let Laura write, as she is a separate person from her husband with her own career and credentials,” Needleman said. “I say this not as an excuse, but she is, separately from her husband, a billionaire (making her through marriage a billionaire twice over) and for that reason I think I failed to consider any monetary conflict in her case.”

Arrillaga-Andreessen does indeed have her own career, including as a well-known philanthropy educator, and is indeed very wealthy in her own right. She is the daughter of Silicon Valley real estate mogul John Arrillaga, whose land development work paved the way for the complexes of Google, Apple and myriad other tech companies.

There has since been a disclosure about Arrillaga-Andreessen added to the “Transformers” article, and an editor’s note regarding what’s happening at Theranos.

Neither Andreessen Horowitz nor Arrillaga-Andreessen has responded to requests for comment.

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