Fessing Up

How guilty is the Times? Depends on whether you blame the media for the war.

Return with me to the days when Goodwin was executive editor at the News. On his watch, reporter Juan González was discouraged from following up his major scoop about the Twin Towers attack. González had discovered that the air around the collapsed buildings was dangerous, despite official assurances to the contrary. Then all hell broke lose. As my colleague Cynthia Cotts reported, News editors "buckled under pressure from federal and local authorities"—including a deputy mayor. And as González would later recount, when News metro editor Richard Pienciak formed a four-reporter team to investigate the toxic threat, he was removed from his post.

González soldiered on, "to the obvious displeasure of the paper's top editors," he wrote in Fallout: The Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Collapse. Getting follow-up pieces into the paper "became a tense and emotionally draining battle," and they usually ended up on the back news pages. Now that a summary of studies has concluded that 9-11 was "the largest acute environmental disaster" ever to befall New York, González has been vindicated—and the News is taking credit.

"News Told You So," read the header on González's May 25 column. But the text reminded readers that Giuliani and his health commissioner had tried to "kick [the story] down." Since this piece appeared two days after Goodwin's Rudy gush, one could read it as a middle finger righteously raised. But what about the News itself. Why did it retreat under Goodwin's command?

The inglorious Judith Miller
photo: Naum Kazhdam
The inglorious Judith Miller

More than reflexive deference to the government may have been involved. Seven months before 9-11, Giuliani played a major part in getting one of his commissioners a new job as president of Hunter College, though she lacked prior educational experience. That president, Jennifer Raab, happens to be Goodwin's wife. Readers of his Giuliani endorsement might have found that fact salient, but it went unmentioned in Goodwin's column. "My wife has her own credentials and career, I have mine," he told Press Clips, adding, "My experience with the Voice in recent years is that the facts stand no chance against the onslaught of ideology and prejudice."

Maybe the Times' admission will inspire the same scrutiny at other papers. But at the News, apparently, a columnist who carries out a contract is Dog Bites Man.

Research assistance: Matthew Phillp

Deconstructions: rgoldstein@villagevoice.com

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