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The New York Times Publishes Another Misleading Story About Nail Salons

Are there no reporters at the paper other than Sarah Maslin Nir who can cover the issue?

New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir has written another negative article on the nail salon industry. And once again she gets the story wrong. The article informs readers that Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-District 40) crafted a state law that imposed a new insurance mandate on nail salons. When shop owners started to send him political donations, Nir claims, Kim switched sides and reversed his stance.

The implication is that the only reason Kim came to oppose more government regulation is that he was morally compromised by campaign cash.

In fact, the legislative record shows that Kim didn’t reverse his stance. The insurance mandate was thrust on Kim and the rest of the state legislature by the governor’s office through an executive order. As the official markups on the bill show, Kim inserted language into the bill back in May that was intended to weaken the governor’s ability to enforce the insurance mandate.

Kim has been helping the nail salon industry fight the government’s regulatory crackdown from the outset. Has he been defending the industry simply because he wants more contributions? There’s no way to ever know someone's true motivations, but Kim’s personal background—his immigrant family found success running a chain of nail shops —is another plausible explanation. Not to mention, Kim’s district is home to many nail salon workers and store owners. It’s hardly surprising that he would be concerned with protecting the livelihoods of his constituents.

Before we delve into the wonky details on Kim’s efforts to protect the nail salon industry, a little background on the reporter, Sarah Maslin Nir, who herself is a protagonist in the story she’s covering—a fact that the Times doesn’t reveal.

Back in May, Nir wrote a much-discussed two-part expose claiming that nail salons subject their workers to dangerous and exploitive working conditions. This series directly led to the regulatory crackdown that Kim has been fighting.

Nir’s coverage has come under sharp attack. In July, former Times reporter Richard Bernstein wrote a scathing critique of her work in the online edition of The New York Review of Books. (Bernstein has personal knowledge of the industry through his wife, who owns two nail salons.) More recently, I wrote a three-part series for Reason.com, highlighting more factual errors and alleged misquotes in Nir's original coverage. 

Nail Salon Protest, October 6, 2015. |||On Friday, the paper’s in-house Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that the Times' nail salon series "went too far in generalizing about an entire industry.” She said the series’ "findings, and the language used to express them, should have been dialed back—in some instances substantially."

Sullivan, however, doesn’t think the paper should shy away from the issue. "My recommendation is that The Times write further follow-up stories," she wrote, "including some that re-examine its original findings…"

Two days after Sullivan issued her stinging indictment, the paper did some of that follow-up reporting. But the story didn't "re-examine" the paper's original findings. That's not surprising since the reporter was again Nir.

The article offers a brief discussion of the "nail salon protests in September at City Hall and several demonstrations in front of the New York Times building."

Here the paper is allowing Nir to report on protests that have been in part directed at her—though of course she doesn't mention it. "Apologize Now, Fire Nir," read multiple signs at the demonstration, which I covered. Other signs were more derisive.

On classic grounds of conflict-of-interest, surely the paper's editors could have found another reporter to replace Nir, while finding other topics for her to cover. But let's put the issue aside of whether it's appropriate for Nir to report on the topic, and take a closer look at her story's core argument.

Headlined "Once Behind Nail Salon Law, Assemblyman Now Opposes Reforms," the article opens with Ron Kim at a triumphant bill signing ceremony last July for a new state law he helped craft, which Nir writes was aimed at "protecting nail salon workers from labor abuses and potentially dangerous chemicals."

Yet, "[l]ess than a month later,"

Mr. Kim, a Democrat, began to publicly question the law—particularly a provision designed to protect workers from wage fraud. He soon became one of the statute's most vociferous critics.

The “provision” Nir’s referring to is a requirement that all nail salons must obtain a "wage bond"—a special kind of insurance that would give nail salon workers recourse to recoup their back wages when the government determines they've been underpaid.

Nir doesn't mention that the wage bond requirement wasn't explicitly part of the bill. It actually came through an emergency order issued by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) on May 18 as the legislation was being negotiated. Kim says that when he found out about the emergency order, he told Cuomo's chief counsel, Alphonso David, that he was walking away from discussions over the bill. Kim says that David then informed him that because the insurance mandate came through an executive order, it could be enforced without approval from the legislature.

Kim returned to the bargaining discussions, in part so that he would have an opportunity to insert new language into the bill intended to weaken the governor’s wage-bond order.

"From the outset Assemblyman Kim was against the wage-bond requirement," says Dan Quart (D-Dist. 73), a co-sponsor of the bill who was involved in the legislative process.

Kim opposed the wage bond for obvious reasons. He worried that the cost of obtaining this new form of insurance, and its general lack of availability, could drive out of business many of the mom-and-pop shop shops that dominate the nail salon industry.

Kim's markup of the bill, which is public record, shows his efforts to weaken the wage-bond mandate. The first draft of the state law written by the Cuomo administration had language intended to bolster the state's legal authority to issue the emergency order. It stated that businesses "shall file and maintain during the term of the license evidence of a bond or liability insurance…as required by the secretary." Kim deleted this section.

Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-District 40) |||He deleted language stating that the government could unilaterally close a business lacking a "bond or liability insurance." He also made sure that almost every aspect of the bill referred to the "beauty enhancement" industry, not nail salons in particular, with the goal of insuring that the wage-bond order couldn't single out one type of business. Finally, Kim inserted new language requiring that the state guarantee that wage bonds be readily available on the market before the governor could move ahead with his emergency order.

The legislative record makes it clear that Kim was working against the wage-bond order back in May. Nir’s only evidence that he changed his position is a brief quote from Alphonso David, the governor’s chief counsel: "[Kim] was supportive up until recently. Why is it that his view has changed?," David told Nir.

Kim denies he ever said anything to David in support of the wage-bond requirement. (David didn’t reply to my interview request.)

Nir's claim that Kim changed his mind because of political donations "is a load of baloney," says Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-District 27). "He had very serious reservations about the wage-bond requirement back in the Spring."

Nir says that Kim has raised about $60,000 from the nail salon industry. Kim says that the figure is roughly accurate, but it includes contributions from "people who have had a long history of donating to my campaign" and aren't affiliated with the nail salon industry.

It’s certainly possible that campaign cash has fueled Kim’s advocacy. But, as noted, there are other explanations. Kim represents an area in Queens where many people who work in the business reside. And the issue is personal: Kim's aunt, a Korean immigrant and former factory worker, got a job as a manicurist and ultimately borrowed money to open her own shop. She later expanded it into a small chain, and Kim's parents joined the business.

"I want to make sure other immigrants have the same opportunities as my aunt," says Kim.

The same bill that sought to weaken the wage-bond requirement had another provision that Nir didn’t mention, which was geared towards opening opportunities for recent immigrants. The legislation established a new apprenticeship program that would giving aspiring nail salon workers who can’t afford to attend beauty school a pathway to get licensed and remain in the industry legally.

Kim boasted to his colleagues about this aspect of the bill during a legislative session, according to a transcript. He didn’t mentioned the wage bond requirement.

Nir's story also implies that nail salon owners are a powerful bunch, who have launched a "surprisingly sophisticated effort" to fight the regulatory crackdown inspired by her reporting.

I've been covering that effort for about two months now, and I can say with assurance that it’s quite unsophisticated. The nail salon owners lack media savvy, and they've struggled to get any outlets other than Asian-language media to cover their demonstrations. When I began reporting on the story, I found it challenging to get anyone to speak with me to impart even basic facts. I've never received a press release from any official representative of the industry, and there's no organizing strategy. Nobody offered to introduce me to a salon owner who was willing to be profiled or speak on the record.

One former salon owner started a website to highlight the industry's struggles, but it offers no contact information for inquiring journalists who want to follow up on the issue.

Nir herself hasn't show up to report on the protests, which is a good thing; her presence would've likely caused an uproar. That’s because, again, the main purpose of the demonstrations was for nail shop owners to complain to the Times that Nir’s misleading reporting has hurt their livelihoods.

Are there no other reporters at the paper who can write about nail salons?

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  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    The New York Times Publishes Another Misleading Story

    NAILED IT, Jim. If ya know what I'm sayin'...

  • Swiss Servator||

    *GAZE, NARROWED*

  • ||

    Ouch, you cut me to the quick, Alma.

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    "Who cares about facts? This is just an anti-regulation extremist libertarian site, so whatever's said here doesn't really matter" - NY Times (paraphrased)

  • Illocust||

    I think that statement bit them in the ass. I was noticing in the comments that even some of the faithful thought there was something wonky about disregarding Reason.

  • Jerryskids||

    Some people might claim that the NYT is taking a cue from the Donald on how to respond to criticism, but I think FYTW covers their attitude just as well. What the NYT says is what the NYT says and that's it - truth has nothing to do with it, it's all about authority.

  • brady949||

    I'm sure this nail salon thing is a huge scandal and everything but nail salons........*eyes glaze over*

  • ||

    Sure, it's a trivial issue compared to other more pressing issues, but oftentimes it's the small, tangible incidents like this which gain traction, not the bigger, less-tangible issues. We take allies where we can find them.

  • Akira||

    I know it may seem trite to people who were not directly affected by it, but the immigrants - many of whom fled a communist country - were probably quite dismayed at having their businesses and/or jobs imperiled by the new regulations brought on by the NYT's attempt to play the savior of the downtrodden.

  • MJGreen - Docile Citizen||

    Kim’s personal background—his immigrant family found success running a chain of nail shops —is another plausible explanation. Not to mention, Kim’s district is home to many nail salon workers and store owners. It’s hardly surprising that he would be concerned with protecting the livelihoods of his constituents.

    Nah, it's the money that did it.

    I see that Nir tucks away this fact at the very bottom of the piece. How many of her readers will actually see it and process it as a reasonable explanation? This woman is shameless. Damn crusaders.

  • PBR Streetgang||

    Sarah Maslin Nir, like Emma Sulkowicz, the daughter of a pair of psychiatrists, educated at a Manhattan prep school before going to Columbia.

  • Rhywun||

    the daughter of a pair of psychiatrists

    I can't even imagine the awful childhood that must have been.

  • Illocust||

    Has anyone done a study to see if psychiatrist children are more likely to have problems?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Don't encourage them.

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    Her father may have been a psychiatrist, but he was a pretty badass individual.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah, saw that.

    I just recall an after-school job where my boss had a psych degree and she liked to use it. It was like constantly being under a heat lamp. Granted I was a little shit at the time but still. It was bad enough for a couple hours a day but for 18 years and times two... OMFG.

  • Illocust||

    They are circling the wagons while trying to do damage control at the same time. The editors response was to give their buddies an excuse not to report their mistakes (they admitted it so its no longer news). Now they are going to use their position of power to destroy anyone that tries to stand up to the narrative they painted.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    "Back in May, Nir wrote a much-discussed two-part expose claiming that nail salons subject their workers to dangerous and exploitive working conditions. This series directly led to the regulatory crackdown that Kim has been fighting."

    Which is exactly why she did it. She feels powerful and important now, and doesn't care that she's been caught lying.

  • DarrenM||

    She feels powerful and important now, and doesn't care that she's been caught lying.

    So you're saying she fits right in at the NYT.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    In those words, yes.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Doubling down is standard operating procedure these days for those with any power (and newspapers, for the moment, fall into that category) who've been caught being wrong.

  • sarcasmic||

    That has always been the SOP for those with power. Power means you're never wrong, even when you are.

  • ||

    ^This

  • Brian||

    Pretty much.

    They're only guilty of what they confess to.

    As long as they don't confess, they'll have loyal team members and political backers willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, beyond any reasonable doubt.

    And anyone who gives credence to reasonable doubts is just a conspiracy campaign.

  • Robert||

    You mean doubling up, not down.

  • Michael Price||

    " for those with any power (and newspapers, for the moment, fall into that category) "
    That moment is not going to last forever, and when people like Nir have to sell pencils on the sidewalk I'll be laughing my ass off.

  • Michael Price||

    " for those with any power (and newspapers, for the moment, fall into that category) "
    That moment is not going to last forever, and when people like Nir have to sell pencils on the sidewalk I'll be laughing my ass off.

  • ||

    "Are there no other reporters at the paper who can write about nail salons?"

    Or how about not?

    I absolutely love - LOVE - how Nir and whoever backs her up pain nail salon workers as a crafty political bunch. No disrespect to salon workers, but they don't strike me as being organized to the point being depicted.

    And.

    Nir. Worth of inducting into the Woodchipper Hall of Fame?

  • Pan Zagloba||

    No, it's salon owners who are crafty and organized. Because every business owner is an exploiting evil Scrooge-like figure who has to be fought every step by the Righteous Works of Government, Workers and Honest Intelligentsia.

    What I'm basically saying is that they are wreckers, and you can't handle wreckers without someone to denounce them first.

  • Jerryskids||

  • R C Dean||

    Uh-oh, "the suspect jumped out of a third-floor window and fled."

    I've seen this.

    OMAR COMIN'.

  • Illocust||

    He jumped from a third story window and was good enough to run away? Maybe it's my fear of heights, but that sounds a bit implausible.

  • Christophe||

    He was on Bath Saltz. He didn't even notice he broke both his femurs when landing.

  • ||

    Just who is this Nir? For starters, she's a Columbia graduate. Hear that Robby?

    http://www.journalism.columbia.edu/news/420

  • Almanian's Rusty Woodchipper||

    burrrrrrrrrn

  • PapayaSF||

    began to publicly question the law—particularly a provision designed to protect workers from wage fraud

    Oh, well, what more do we need to know? The provision is designed to protect! And of course there's no need to determine if it will actually protect, or if it will have negative side effects. #IntentionsAreAllThat Matter.

  • R C Dean||

    You know who isn't a victim of wage fraud?

    The unemployed.

    Mission accomplished!

  • Sevo||

    And you'll get another "we're sorry some of the details are wrong" apology, too.

  • GILMORE™||

    Of course they'll double down. They never really acknowledged any fundamental problems in the original stories. The comment by the public editor was as much to discredit critics as it was to acknowledge 'less than perfect' reporting.

    They've wantonly misrepresented evidence, ignored mountains of salient information, and relied on "interviews" with people who barely speak english and who later contradicted the claims made by Nir.

    She's a hack. Pure and simple. And the NYT has no problem as long as the hackery is on behalf of the Democrat-Establishment, union-supported politics.

  • Illocust||

    I just don't get why they are so set on making this story fly. It would seem easier to just make an editors note about the mistake and then never bring it up again. After the first week no one is going to go back to the article to see your mistakes.

  • ||

    Srsly, Illy? It's the prog narrative of evil capitalists exploiting the workers and evading commonsense safety regulations.

  • ||

    Also, what PapayaSF said above.

  • Illocust||

    But it would seem that the narrative would be better served by admitting fault immediately after the first story contradicting theirs. If they didn't drag it out by fighting back, Reason would have never done their debunking, Salon owners wouldn't be having a very visible protest in front of their building, and most New Yorkers would never realize that the story had been falsified. It's the old print the big story on the front page of the morning news then print the correction on page 38 Friday afternoon.

  • ||

    But then they'd have to admit that libertarians were right about something, and the narrative cannot tolerate that. Also, NYT has a 'uuuuuuge readership; Reason not so much so they feel they can safely ignore criticism from that quarter.

  • PS||

    Or Nir is really a closet racist who hates Asians. Wouldn't surprise me.

  • GILMORE™||

    "I just don't get why they are so set on making this story fly. "

    Once the Governor/Mayor has bought into the campaign to "clean up" a sector of the economy (i.e. regulate it to the brink of destruction and then bring it into the fold of crony unions) ... the NYT will carry water until there is no more water to be carried.

    That said = they seem to be putting greater effort into pumping the "Fast Food minimum wage" issue right now. It was top of the Reuters stories this morning

  • Illocust||

    Ah this makes sense. They can't print a correction if they need to continue pumping the story for policy reasons.

  • Rhywun||

    The minimum wage for fast-food workers will rise to $15 by 2018 in New York City and statewide by 2021.

    Well, at least poor people won't be able to afford the junk food they're not supposed to be eating.

  • Christophe||

    North Koreans don't have to worry about obesity. Except for Dear Leader.

  • Rhywun||

    just make an editors note about the mistake and then never bring it up again

    They've done that so many times, they've run out of other things to write about.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "There’s no way to ever know someone's true motivations, but Kim’s personal background—his immigrant family found success running a chain of nail shops —is another plausible explanation."

    What's Sarah Maslin Nir's motivation for writing these hit pieces on the nail salon industry? Is she just smearing immigrant entrepreneurs for fun?

    Does she realize she's hurting the immigrants that work at these salons? Does she care?

  • pan fried wylie||

    She'll care when she can't take out a pay-day loan for her next manny.

  • PS||

    She hates Asians because they have education and a willingness to work. All the things that the left loathe in people.

  • BiMonSciFiCon||

    She's whining about personal attacks on Twitter. Easier to play the victim than to respond to the factual questioning of her story, I suppose.

  • ||

    They always try to play the victim, BMSFC.

  • Paper Wasp||

    She deserves to have her ass handed to her on Twitter, after doubling down on her wrong translation of the stupid nail salon job ad she finally decided to cough up.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How the Hell are those dumb chink broads supposed to understand their best interests without Sarah Maslin Nir to tell them?

  • ||

    I'm glad to see the protesters finally got some decent signage. Those 11 x 14 placards with the thin writing were just not hard to see, and they often contained overly-long messages. "Apology Now! Fire Nir!" is much more effective. Sure, people may not know who Nir is, but it's an easy google.

  • dantheserene||

    But what you get is this:
    Journalist
    Sarah Maslin Nir is an American journalist, best known for her investigative reporting on exploitation among nail salon workers in the New York Times. Wikipedia

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Theory: Epstein has been all over this story for the mani-pedi discounts.

  • Sevo||

    Isoroku Yamamoto approves this statement.

  • ||

    David didn’t reply to my interview request

    Not that he has to, but it's looking like he's in retreat. Good.

  • Robert||

    I'm glad you keep picking at this scab, Jim.

  • Peter Duncan||

    Isn't it time we license and regulate journalists in this country? I mean, fuck, any bedwetting hack can get a job at the NYT now. Tony?

  • Loki||

    I'm guessing this Nir bitch must have gotten a bad manicure or something. Hell hath no fury like an SJW who thinks she was scorned.

  • Paper Wasp||

    They did the same shit to Amazon. Misquoted, cherry-picked, used sources who had their asses canned for unethical behavior. And didn't disclose their conflict of interest, the reason they did the hit piece in the first place: Bezos owns WaPo, which is increasingly competitive with the Grey Hag.

    I just don't know how you spin ads that you willfully mistranslated from Chinese as anything but a major unprofessional fuckup. The mind boggles. The interpretation of the dollar amounts in the Chinese job ads is binary: you've either got it right or you don't. If you don't have it right, the foundation of your entire article is horseshit.

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  • Michael Price||

    Always ask "Is that from a reliable source or the New York Times?".

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