The New York Times has suspended star sports journalist Karen Crouse, and her future at the paper is being heatedly debated among the paper’s top editors, three people familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast, following revelations she failed to disclose her deal to write a book with Michael Phelps while reporting on the Olympic swimming icon.
Last month, Crouse wrote a glowing piece on Phelps’ retirement from the sport and his reinvention as a mentor for young athletes. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple first reported, the Times quietly added an editor's note to the piece on Tuesday revealing the ethical violation.
“After this article was published, editors learned that the reporter had entered an agreement to co-write a book with Michael Phelps,” the note read. “If editors had been aware of the conflict, the reporter would not have been given the assignment.”
Crouse was due to travel to Tokyo to cover the Olympics for the Times but has now been suspended and taken off the swimming beat, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to The Daily Beast.
The reporter inked her deal to co-author the book earlier this year but failed to inform Times management. In fact, Crouse’s editors only learned of the publishing deal after reading about it in Sports Illustrated and were “livid,” according to the people familiar with the situation.
After the Sports Illustrated piece was published, Crouse tweeted, “grateful mostly that @MichaelPhelps is sharing his story because he is helping SO many people by doing so. But also to be a small part of it.”
U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Jon Mason told The Daily Beast that the paper alerted the organization late Wednesday evening that Crouse would not be traveling to Tokyo with the planned group of reporters.
“I was told by a NY Times reporter that she’s been taken off the Olympic beat,” Mason said. “The update I got directly from the paper was so they could recalibrate on coverage. She has a great knowledge of swimming but if anyone can make up for it then it’s the Times staff.”
Crouse, one of the foremost swimming reporters in the world who has extensively written about Phelps over the years, did not return a request for comment. Publishing insiders told The Daily Beast that she is likely to earn high six figures for the book that will detail Phelps’ mental-health struggles outside of the pool.
“Our guidelines state that no staff member may serve as a ghost writer or co-author for individuals who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise,” a spokesperson for The New York Times told The Daily Beast. “As the editors’ note makes clear, the arrangement was a conflict of interest. This was a significant lapse in judgment. We are reviewing this matter and will take appropriate action.”
Crouse’s situation is reminiscent of another New York Times ordeal involving a reporter’s attempts to write a book with one of the paper’s key sources. As The Daily Beast reported in 2019, four-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David Barstow went to extraordinary lengths to try and secure a lucrative ghostwriting deal with Mary Trump—one of the paper's key sources for its Pulitzer-winning investigation into Donald Trump’s taxes—against the paper's ethical guidelines.
But in that case, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet ultimately backed Barstow who—soon after The Daily Beast’s revelations—left the paper for a teaching gig at the University of California, Berkeley.
At the time, Baquet told The Daily Beast that such a ghostwriting gig was “unacceptable” but that Barstow did not end up violating the paper’s ethical guidelines because the deal was scuttled.