Serving a Life Term

Morgenthau: The long, long, long, long arm of the law

Morgenthau's influence seems to be wall-to-wall. Rarely will you hear any lawyer—even defense lawyers who have suffered from his judge-picking—find any fault with him in public. His halo can burn them. The city's four other district attorneys, upon whose territory he occasionally poaches, are equally careful with their comments.

Morgenthau—whose opponent in the coming election is a former state judge, Leslie Crocker Snyder—has been Manhattan district attorney since the early 1970s, and for seven years before that he was the U.S. Attorney for Manhattan. In all those years, it's hard to recall any truly comprehensive and balanced coverage of his work by the city's mainstream press. The only newspaper to have taken a clear look at some of his negatives has been Newsday. I worked there for a decade after 26 years at The New York Times. It's the only mainstream paper in this city that doesn't have an addiction to sacred cows.

His latest re-election campaign would seem a perfect opportunity for the press to come out of its shell. But this doesn't seem to be happening. In fact, early this year, the Daily News provided an example of the opposite. Its investigative team had come across a string of parking violations by writer Lucinda Franks, Morgenthau's wife. They staked out her car, a 2002 Toyota, and found it illegally parked at expired meters and bus stops. An "official police business" placard was placed in the windshield. Only on-duty law enforcement officers are allowed to use these placards. The news team took photos of all this.

But when it came time to run the story, on February 7, the photos were cast aside, and the story was softened in the editing process and cut back to a meager 326 words. I learned about the episode from a source outside the News. Both Martin Dunn, editorial director of the News, and Bill Boyle, the senior managing editor, who shepherded the piece into the paper, declined to comment. "Just for the record," Dunn replied in an e-mail response to my questions, "I make it a policy never to talk to the tabloid press, especially free newspapers."

Maybe someone on an un-free paper can look into this. And maybe while they're at it, they can give us a full look at Morgenthau's record.

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