A Times Quiz


The Times‘ Clyde Haberman berated Freddy Ferrer last week for failing to mention in a postmortem interview with El Diario that he was “his own worst enemy at times,” far more responsible for his demise than the press and pollsters he was blaming. Haberman couldn’t find “a smidgeon of self-reflection in the interview,” so we thought we’d help Haberman’s paper do a little of its own in this, the Times Election 2005 Quiz:

1. Which terms of endearment describing Ferrer or his campaign appeared on the Times’ October 21 front page, the day after Bill Clinton’s endorsement: (a) beleaguered, (b) B-list candidate, (c) struggling, (d) mishaps, (e) entangled in his problems, (f) odd, (g) bizarre frenzy, (h) overshadowed, (i) all of the above and in only four paragraphs? Answer—(i).

2. How many blind quotes or paraphrases from “aides, associates, donors, Democrats,” and other “people who have spoken to the Clintons” appeared in the same story, all questioning or denigrating the candidate Bill Clinton had just endorsed? 19.

3. How many on-the-record quotes raising questions about the authenticity of Clinton’s endorsement appeared in the same story? Zero.

4. How many words of direct or indirect quotation from the former president made their way into this 1,503-word story about what Ferrer viewed as his biggest news day? 3, though the News and Post cited 86 and 91 Clinton words.

5. Which is the worst blind blast at Ferrer to see print in this story? (a) “tired and vague sounding,” (b) the Clintons don’t see him “as a particularly imaginative or visionary thinker,” (c) “why is Hillary standing by this guy?” (d) unnamed Democrats “were flummoxed that the senator was supporting him”? (b), but does the Times ordinarily grant anonymity to sources that call prominent leaders dumb?

6. How many Times investigative pieces appeared on Ferrer? 4 (5,207 words). How many on Bloomberg? 1 (562 words).

7. Which former employer was featured in one of these pieces? (a) Drum Major Institute, a nonprofit that once paid Ferrer $150,000 a year and had no ongoing ties to the campaign, (b) Bloomberg LP, the 72percent–Bloomberg-owned very-much-for-profit that enabled the mayor to finance the most expensive campaigns in city history? (a), though one of Bloomberg LP’s best-paid executives left to work all year in the campaign without getting a campaign salary, and legal controversies involving the mayor dog the company.

8. Which lawsuit was featured in another of these investigative articles? (a) a $15,000 city settlement of a defamation case brought in 1998 against Ferrer by a former staffer he’d criticized for a bad research project, (b) Bloomberg’s 1998 deposition that he wouldn’t believe a rape allegation unless it was confirmed by “an unimpeachable third-party witness,” which was taken as part of a suit that mysteriously disappeared just as Bloomberg emerged as a mayoral candidate? (a), without ever disclosing that the former Ferrer staffer, whose lawyer trashed Ferrer in the story, was now working for the Bloomberg campaign.

9. Which tarnished associate was the focus of the third investigative story? (a) Manny Gonzalez, a major fundraiser for Ferrer in 2001, who was subsequently convicted on bribery charges unrelated to Ferrer and who had had no known relationship with him since, (b) Staten Island Borough President Jim Molinaro, the big-time Bloomberg backer and beneficiary who was described by the mayor as the “most honest and trustworthy person” he knew despite a litany of mob and other shady associations detailed in court records? (a), a legitimate story that the NYT tried to balance with one about a convicted yet tangential figure in the Bloomberg Queens campaign, bypassing the mayor’s Staten Island sewer.

10. How many NYT stories referred to Ferrer’s statement before a police organization that the killing of Amadou Diallo wasn’t a crime? 68. How many described Bloomberg’s position on the Diallo incident? 1, reporting that he “demurred” answering questions (no reference when he declined to say anything about the case in the pre-election debate).

11. How many stories quoted Bloomberg’s initial response to Independence Party leader Lenora Fulani’s description of Jews as “mass murderers of people of color,” who’d “sold their souls”? Two stories cited Bloomberg’s day-later declaration: “I don’t know what she’s referring to so you’ll have to ask her,” with only one story noting that he appeared at a Fulani fundraiser two days before her statement and only seven stories revealing that he gave Fulani’s party $250,000 in 2004. The Times emphasized Bloomberg’s subsequent condemnation of her remarks as “phenomenally offensive” and “despicable,” with 11 stories reporting that he ran on her party’s ballot line anyway. Would virtually all of this minuscule coverage have appeared before the general- election campaign began if the anti-Semite with the ballot line were in the other camp?

12. How many stories mentioned the error on the Ferrer campaign website that falsely listed blogger Ferrer as having attended “public schools for most of [his] education?” 6, including two suggesting, one in the lead paragraph, that Ferrer might’ve “lied outright” and directed an aide to “edit out his many years of Catholic school.” The Times said the Ferrer explanation blaming a young aide “struck some as fishy.”

13. How many stories mentioned the Bloomberg campaign’s admission that it had planted nine campaign aides at the International House of Pancakes in Harlem when it staged an event there, and that these aides had misled reporters about who they were? 2, including one that simply cited the mayor’s vow that it wouldn’t happen again, which to the Times ended the brief controversy. The Times did not say that the Bloomberg camp’s explanation—contending that it didn’t know the aides concealed their identities—struck some as syrupy.

14. How often did the Times report the pre-primary results of the Quinnipiac and Marist polls? 21, in stories from June to September. After the primary, how often did it report that Quinnipiac had missed Ferrer’s winning 40 percent by eight points and that Marist missed by four to six points? Zero. In how many pieces did it report the pre-general-election results of these two polls? 14. How many stories did the paper print critiquing the 19-point Quinnipiac and 15-point Marist errors in their final polls? Zero.

15. When Bloomberg boycotted the Apollo debate, the NYT (a) headlined its first story “Mayor and Ferrer Agree to a Plan for 2 Debates,” (b) led that story with the assertion that the “agreement” broke “a standoff,” even though Ferrer was quoted inside the story objecting to the debate schedule that, in fact, Bloomberg had unilaterally determined, (c) took 10 days to observe editorially that Bloomberg was using his “wealth advantage to make his own rules for the debates” by skipping a Campaign Finance Board–sponsored event, (d) all of the above? (d).

16. In my own moment of self-reflection, I should note that I (a) predicted in August that race would “determine the winner” and that the city “may wind up gripped by a racial dynamic it hasn’t experienced since 1989,” (b) dubiously posed the question of whether Bloomberg could “win enough of the minority vote by being evenhanded and capable,” (c) wrote a pre-election piece about six Bloomberg LP controversies that was half a loaf, which I stand behind but understand the questions others have raised, (d) all of the above? A big (d).

Research assistance: Jessica Bennett, Ben James, Lee Norsworthy, and Xana O’Neill