‘Times’ Gives Morgenthau a Death Sentence


Okay, let’s see if we can figure this out together.

The New York Times says that if Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau were seeking only his fifth term, they’d be for him. In Tuesday’s paper, the editorial writers say he’s almost an icon, mentally sharp and in good health at 86. They offer no criticism of his actual performance as D.A., and instead just disagree with him about whether there should be a special court to handle the borough’s less than 1,000-a-year domestic violence cases, or a community court in midtown near their office. Then, like a tough sentencing judge, they give him a career-ending sentence—endorsing his opponent, Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder—in part because Morgenthau refused recently to express sufficient remorse about a 15-year-old case reversed on account of new evidence.

In its 109th year of one-family rule, the Sulzberger Times decrees that it’s “time for a change” after a mere 30 “legendary” years of our one Morgenthau.

Though the city’s liberal beacon has used the death penalty as a measure of many candidates before Snyder, it dismisses her support of it in a single sentence. It does not even tell its readers that the ex-judge declared in her own autobiography, happily entitled Twenty-Five to Life, that she volunteered in open court once to administer the lethal injection herself.

Had the New York Court of Appeals not recently overturned the state’s death penalty statute by four to three, the Times might have been more concerned about the
potentially deadly consequences of its endorsement. After all, Morgenthau stood tall for the decade that the statute appeared on the books, refusing to seek an execution despite periodic drumbeats for blood. Snyder whispers now, except when she’s with the police groups that back her, that she favors execution just in the most “heinous” cases. If she lasts as D.A. a term or two, we might find out what she means by “heinous,” and Manhattan, of all places, could wind up wearing its own black mask. After all, even the Times faulted her for “a worrisome fondness for publicity.” Imagine how much airtime on Fox she could get
with a single injection.

The Times says she’s a lawyer of “unquestioned ability” even though she practices no law at her private firm, which hired her after she rewarded it with a
million-dollar court appointment. The paper’s only comment about an actual duty of the D.A.’s office is to express concern, based on Snyder’s comments, that she will “abandon” Morgenthau’s long history of Wall Street prosecutions. They said they “trust” her not to, even though she’s assailed Morgy for wasting resources on white-collar crimes.

The Times has made it a practice in recent years to throw in the trash thousands of its own editorial words so it could endorse George Pataki in 1998 and 2002, and Rudy Giuliani in 1997, both of whom it tirelessly slammed before shamelessly embracing them. In Morgenthau’s case, it has done the opposite, inexplicably damning a man it has so long admired.

Research assistance: Anna Lenzer and K. Emily Bond