NY Times Discusses Not Discussing That Paterson Rumor


So you may have heard there’s a rumor going around about Governor Paterson. Actually, there are a number of rumors going around about Governor Paterson, but they all seem to have metastasized from one original rumor, which has the Times preparing a story about Governor Paterson with stuff in it that’s so explosive that he’s going to be forced to resign from office.

The local media are, predictably, obsessed with The Rumor, to the extent that both Paterson and his putative Republican opponent Mr. Lazio demanded that the Times address it and Paterson has addressed it repeatedly himself. The only local outlet which hasn’t addressed The Rumor or The Rumors About the Rumor, except for a brief post on their City Room blog, is the Times.

Until now. Clark Hoyt, the Public Editor of the Times, has decided to address why the Times is not addressing one of the biggest story in local politics.

A brief note on Hoyt’s timeline: he starts out by giving a brief history of the spread of the story which is, at the very least, counterintuitive.

Hoyt credits, if that’s the word, a “tweet” by Observer reporter John Koblin asking for information about The Rumor with “seem[ing] to break a dam holding back wild rumors that The Times was on the verge of an exposé.” It was the lack of journalistic standards in Koblin’s use of social media, Hoyt (rather snippily) suggests, that are responsible for the spread of The Rumor:

The rumors about Paterson, who acknowledged past affairs shortly after taking office, were fanned by technology that allows everyone to be a publisher, spawning news and commentary sites with widely varying standards and such a hunger for material that just the fact that The Times is interviewing sources can become “news.” Koblin, the apparent catalyst, wrote like an astonished bystander last week about what he called the “fake-news cycle.”

Anyway, while I’m sure Mr. Koblin’s twitter feed is widely read, it seems to me somewhat more likely that what “broke the dam” was a blog post by the Daily News’ Elisabeth Benjamin, who mentioned The Rumor (without naming the Times) an hour before Koblin tweeted.

The rumor mill has been running overtime in recent weeks about Paterson and the possibility that a major newspaper is about to drop a bombshell story about his personal life that will be far worse than his acknowledged extramarital affair with a former state employee.

Pretty much the whole political world has been buzzing about this. But so far, nothing has come of it.

All of the early stories on The Rumor cited Benjamin’s piece, and so did the Business Insider post that set off the resignation feeding frenzy last weekend.

And, of course, as Hoyt points out, Fred Dicker, who is not unknown to people who follow Albany politics, mentioned it on his radio show the day before.

I’ll take Benjamin and Dicker at their words whatever rumors were ostensibly being discussed in the rumored story already existed.

Hoyt’s discussion of the Times’ internal response is less fanciful. He spoke to Danny Hakim, their Albany Bureau Chief, who said that he never brought Paterson’s sex life up in a 90-minute interview last week. Carolyn Ryan, who directs Albany coverage for the Times, confirms that.

Ryan also “did not deny” a claim by Paterson’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Schwartz that in a 40-minute conversation she had earlier this week with the Governor “she assured [Paterson] that the profile would not contain anything like the salacious rumors being circulated but demurred on the issue of doing anything to stop them.” She’s apparently not too happy that the Governor discussed what she says was a private conversation, but “if the governor chooses to talk about it, that’s certainly his decision.”

So if the story which is supposed to contain the bombshell is Hakim’s story, The Rumor isn’t true.

Bill Keller, the executive editor who got the nastygram from Rick Lazio, thinks the Times is protecting Paterson by not denying that they’re writing a story about his sex life

For The Times to issue a statement saying, ‘We are not investigating rumors about the sex life or drug use or financial shenanigans of Public Figure X’ doesn’t clear the good name of Public Figure X. It simply announces that we’ve heard the rumors and for some reason chose not to look into them.”

Hoyt, for his part, wants to protect future Governors caught in media feeding frenzies about metarumors

I think The Times and Paterson were caught in a terrible spot, but I think the paper is right to maintain its silence until ready to speak with an article on its own pages. It could have denied the Paterson rumors. But what if the next time it really was looking into a scandal involving a public figure? Silence then would speak volumes.

Keller says “The only honorable thing I know to do in such a situation is to finish our reporting as expeditiously as possible and tell readers what we’ve learned.”

No word yet when that’s going to happen.


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