Unfit to Print

How the 'Times,' the 'Post,' and the Rest of the Media Conspired to Push Pataki

Even more surprising was that no other newspaper or television station in the city followed either of Levy's series. The blackout was so total that when Golisano did a nursing home ad based on Levy's revelations, the tabloids couldn't even do adwatch copy because their readers had no idea what scandal the commercials were amplifying.

Everyone was too busy with the Post's great scoop of the campaign: jobs letters that Carl McCall had written for his daughter and cousin. As juicy a handoff as any campaign has ever made to a newspaper, the McCall letters merited a Post front page. But the paper decided to reward its source with a bonus: four covers in five days, a savage drumbeat of damage that ended the McCall surge to a nine-point margin in the polls.

The Post's editorial and news pages threw a tantrum about this nepotism outrage for weeks after the initial exposé, published under the sturdy direction of Lachlan Murdoch, the 31-year-old son of Rupert's, selected on the basis of merit no doubt to run his father's loss-leader newspaper. Through it all, star columnist Steve Dunleavy remained uncharacteristically silent, chastened perhaps by his own boast in 1998 that Al D'Amato had gotten his son a job, which Dunleavy actually cited as an example of what the then senator did for his constituents, urging D'Amato's re-election because he took care of friends' kids.

The McCall campaign is said to have choked when faced with this assault. But in fact, it immediately pointed out that an in-law of the governor's who lived next door to him, James Copeland, had been awarded $800,000 in state architectural contracts that were so suspicious even Pataki's wholly owned subsidiary, the in-house inspector general, found they were a consequence of "favoritism."

The IG report resulted in the firing of a high state official who'd once worked directly under Pataki, indicating as well that two other top aides to the governor may have made calls on Copeland's behalf. It also said that Copeland told everyone he met in state government just how close he was to the governor. Yet even Newsday, which forced the IG investigation when a state agency gave it a fabricated document designed to cover up the fixing of a Copeland contract, was more focused on McCall's letters when it endorsed Pataki than the far more scandalous incest it had uncovered two years earlier.

Though all four papers endorsed Pataki, he managed to get only 38.9 percent of the city vote, a still substantial level of rejection for a governor with eight years to sell himself. Nonetheless, the same newspapers celebrated this vote as eight points more than he got when running against Mario Cuomo in 1994, ignoring how out of step their endorsements are with their own readers. As quiet as it is kept, Pataki got the second lowest statewide vote of any winning gubernatorial candidate since Franklin Roosevelt in 1929, 23 percent less than he got as an unknown in 1994.

The people know him better than the press.

Research: Sandy Amos, Yi Chen, Clementine Wallace, Will St. John, Bobby Smiley, and Emily Weinstein

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