The New York Post‘s Fred Dicker is Albany’s most powerful reporter. He’s broken so many stories he ought to know when to let one go.
Instead, he wrote a rant yesterday that proves why even the best reporters sometimes need fact checkers.
Dicker’s column is just part of the revival of Troopergate, the longest-running pseudo-scandal in state history, pushed back into prominence by the release of Peter Elkind’s new book on Eliot Spitzer, Rough Justice, and the Tribeca Film Festival screening of Alex Gibney’s untitled documentary tracking Elkind’s book.
Spitzer himself added fuel to the fire by simultaneously going public with broadsides against putative governor and current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose probe of Troopergate was unfavorably deconstructed by Elkind.
Dicker, who reminds us a couple of times in his column that he sparked the 2007 scandal, derided Elkind, an award-winning Fortune Magazine editor-at-large, as a prostitute yesterday in his column, headlined “Eliot’s latest hooker.” In a frantic effort to resurrect Troopergate as what he now calls “one of the biggest political scandals in modern New York history” (he used to skip the “one of”), Dicker makes four false or misleading assertions at the top of his diatribe:
1. “Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the state Public Integrity Commission and the Albany DA all concluded that Spitzer and his aides repeatedly lied” about the core Troopergate allegation, namely, that the then-governor authorized the collection and dissemination of information about Senate Republican leader Joe Bruno’s alleged abuse of state aircraft privileges.
Cuomo issued a 57-page report that in fact stated explicitly that no one involved in Troopergate violated any criminal or civil law (a fact Dicker never mentions). Nowhere in that report, or in any other Cuomo finding, is there the slightest reference to Spitzer or his top aides lying. In fact, Cuomo completed the report without even questioning Spitzer or his top aides, and he explicitly rebutted the lede of Dicker’s initial story, concluding that the state police spying operation on Bruno that Dicker “uncovered” was a figment of the reporter’s imagination.
Walter Ayres, the spokesman for the Public Integrity Commission, sent two e-mails to the Voice yesterday after I questioned him about Dicker’s claim. The first said: “The Commission was not required to and did not make a determination regarding Mr. Spitzer’s credibility.” The second said: “We did not find that any of his aides lied.”
Heather Orth, the press spokeswoman for District Attorney David Soares, said: “We did not conclude that this person lied or that person lied,” noting only that the DA discovered “inconsistencies” between Spitzer’s statements and those of his communications director Darren Dopp and were preparing to “present those inconsistencies to a grand jury” when Spitzer resigned over the prostitution revelations. But Spitzer’s claims to the DA that he did not direct Dopp to release Bruno’s aircraft use records to a reporter were not under oath, and could not have led to a perjury charge. That’s why Soares’ report, released a few weeks after Spitzer’s resignation, cites a misconduct statute that he was considering if he decided to press forward in a case against Spitzer, a statute that became moot when Spitzer quit since it could only be employed against a sitting public official.
2. “Dopp was almost indicted for perjury.”
Soares conducted the investigation of Dopp’s alleged perjury and his spokeswoman Orth told the Voice that he concluded that the charges “were inflated.” The DA’s report says flatly: “We concluded that Dopp did not commit perjury, but may have committed two other misdemeanor crimes,” including filing a false instrument. Indeed, Dicker is on the horns of a dilemma, since his own case against Spitzer relies entirely on Dopp’s credibility, yet Dicker calls both of them liars. As the Soares report put it: “If Dopp’s testimony is credited, then former Governor Spitzer’s answers were not truthful.” Like Cuomo, Soares found that “no New York State Penal Laws were broken” by Troopergate itself, another truth so inconvenient Dicker omits it.
3. “Dopp still stands accused” by the Public Integrity Commission of violating the Public Officers Law through “the improper creation of documents by the State Police, that were made to appear as if they were official documents.”
While this is technically true, Dicker does not add that Dopp has sued the commission, a hearing was held in February, and a judicial determination is pending. Since Dicker is rightfully outraged that Elkind treated him unfairly by never calling him and getting his side of the story, he might consider noting that the charges against Dopp are still legally up in the air.
4. “It led to charges of law breaking against four top Spitzer aides.”
In fact, the charges against three of these four — minus Dopp — were so insubstantial that when they reached a settlement with the Public Integrity Commission and acknowledged their violations of a section of the Public Officers Law, there was no penalty attached to the statute, not even a $10 fine. Their actions, concluded the commission, “raised suspicions” that they might be involved in a violation of law and that, in itself, is a no-no.
Why does any of this matter?
The war between Spitzer and Cuomo, which has hovered beneath the surface for years, is hitting the headlines now. It may impact this gubernatorial election. It could also lead to an unrelenting Spitzer critique of every step Cuomo makes as governor over the next four years, a return of the sort of the government-in-exile that Rudy Giuliani ran while David Dinkins was mayor in the 1990s. At the heart of this mounting tension is Troopergate. Spitzer believes Cuomo’s criticisms of his office’s handling of what Elkind rightly called “a two-bit leak” was politically inspired. Though Cuomo never found Spitzer lied about it, contrary to Dicker’s story, he may well privately believe Spitzer did lie, especially in his unsworn interview with Soares.
Their enmity has much deeper roots than Troopergate, but it is seen as significant enough all these years later to make the front page of the Times, and it is still fueling outrage at the Post unfettered by fact.