Michael Barbaro and Tim Arango have only shared two bylines in their Times careers.
On Saturday, the two reported that Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman “is considering” a run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s U.S. Senate seat. In August 2008, they broke the story that Mike Bloomberg had been holding “confidential conversations” with Zuckerman, Rupert Murdoch and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about whether the three city papers these moguls own “would endorse a bid to overturn term limits.” When the cabal is getting ready for a power grab, Barbaro and Arango can be counted on to be the first to figure it out.
“People familiar with the talks” were cited in the term limits story and “two people told of the discussions” whispered to the Times about the Zuckerman candidacy. To base such significant stories on individuals who were talking “anonymously because the talks were meant to be confidential” requires that the unidentified speakers carry Big Name clout. That’s especially true with the Zuckerman story, since Ken Frydman, a spokesman for Zuckerman, told the Times that the billionaire “is not interested in running for public office.” Apparently Barbaro and Arango concluded, probably correctly, that Frydman was blowing steam.
Who could be so commanding a source that the Times would float this trial balloon against so sweeping a crosscurrent as the one offered up by Frydman? Why does it matter?
Neither the 2008 story nor this one was bylined alphabetically, which suggests that Barbaro was the lead reporter on both. Since Barbaro is the
City Hall bureau chief star of the City Hall bureau, his prominence on the byline sends up smoke signals about where the story might have started. Zuckerman is described in the story as a “close friend” of Bloomberg’s, moved by Mike’s success to consider following in his mogul-to-high-public-office footsteps. Close friend is in fact an understatement. They finish each other’s sentences — usually on the editorial page of the Daily News.
Barbaro is said not to be on speaking terms with the mayor, who, despite his ownership of a Polk Award-winning news organization, appears not to understand that a good reporter is supposed to write copy that, on occasion, drives its subject crazy.
Bloomberg’s top political advisers, from Kevin Sheekey to Howard Wolfson, however, have no difficulty figuring that out. My bet is that this story — about Zuckerman’s possible “independent” candidacy for the senate — emanated from City Hall, where the mayor’s possible independent candidacy for president in 2012 is quietly fermenting. The two close friends may well be embarking on a joint adventure, seeing if they both can capitalize on all the angst arising from a crisis provoked by their own Wall Street clients and cronies.
Where does Arango come in? Look at the dossier. He worked at the New York Post, went to Fortune, and then in 2007, the Times. “I always felt like I had good access” to Murdoch, he told the Observer when he joined the Times. While Fox once tried to smear him when he wrote something the network didn’t like, his access to Murdoch has apparently remained strong enough that he’s written several stories all about the Murdoch empire. He even wrote one in 2008, right before he joined in reporting the term-limits story, that revealed that the old tabloid warriors, Zuckerman and Murdoch, were surprisingly working out ways to “cooperate” and “combine some business functions” of their financially distressed papers.
Almost as instant confirmation of Murdoch’s possible role in the Times piece, the Post rushed out an editorial urging Zuckerman to run even though Murdoch and Bloomberg had already given us another candidate for the same race, the virtually discarded Harold Ford Jr. Not only are Murdoch and Zuckerman supposed to still be considering a joint operating agreement, Zuckerman was actually featured in late January on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox Business, when he formally joined the Fox jihad against Barack Obama. Since Scott Brown’s win, Zuckerman has been savaging Obama — at least when he wasn’t meeting with him at the White House — in the Daily Beast, U.S. News & World Report, the Wall Street Journal, and with Cavuto, throwing bribery, corruption, and “he’s-done-everything-wrong” around as if he was auditioning for a regular Murdoch gig.
The sourcing of the Zuckerman story matters because we are all students of democracy — aren’t we? — and we want to know which titans are deciding who will represent us in the senate and why Sulzberger has been cut out this time. Consider how well the first coup went, foretold by these same two prophets. The four got together to suspend a referendum the voters approved twice and then re-installed Bloomberg in a record-setting election when almost no one voted.
Who wouldn’t want a replay?