A New York Times scoop on a possible $1 billion settlement between drug company Eli Lilly and federal prosecutors was triggered when a lawyer for Lilly accidentally sent reporter Alex Berenson (left) an email intended for his second cousin, lawyer Bradford Berenson. Portfolio, the Conde Nast business magazine, broke the story Monday and, in the days since, the Times has bent over backward minimize the role of the accidental emailer. It knocked Portfolio's scoop on the incident as overblown and wrong, and, after stonewalling that magazine, granted interviews and issued a statement to several blogs that likewise knocked Portfolio's reporting. Now Alex Berenson has appeared on NPR to discuss the incident at some length and, guess what? It turns out Porfolio wasn't so wrong after all!

After the Portfolio story, the Times said:

Mr. Berenson did receive a misdirected e-mail from Pepper, but that e-mail did not contain a detailed description of the status of the settlement talks. Mr. Berenson had known independently about the settlement talks for some time, and he obtained the details he published in the Times from sources other than Pepper.

The Portfolio version was incorrect.

What the Times didn't say is that Berenson's prior "independent" knowledge of the Lilly talks was on an off-the-record basis, as revealed in the NPR excerpt below, and that the email became the trigger for new reporting by Berenson in which Berenson described the email, a potent piece of leverage, to at least one source. Also, while the two-sentence email — read aloud in the full NPR piece — was short, it was also the the point, explaining who Eli Lilly was negotiating with, that they wanted a deal and how the feds were looking for a settlement "in the stratosphere ."

The lawyer who accidentally emailed the Times reporter clearly had him in an autocomplete contacts list; the natural question (already raised elsewhere) is "why?" Was the lawyer a source? After speaking with Berenson, NPR said the reporter has been in "disputes with the law firm... about his stories in the past," so it is possible the lawyer had emailed him complaints.

Strange, then, that Berenson has gone to such lengths to protect the emailer, including by acceding to the lawyer's request to omit the incident from his story on the topic. He also clammed up when Portfolio called, but nevertheless ended up on NPR, allegedly to set the record straight. Including about the existence of his new book, which was plugged at the end of his appearance.

[NPR/On The Media]