Tag Archives: David Paterson

Muckraking – Why Good Intentions Aren’t Good Enough

Following on the heels of my earlier post on the David Paterson affair, the New York Times breaks a new development today (from the same journalists as the original investigative report) which finds, by way of two anonymous sources, that Paterson did instruct two staff members to contact the woman accusing one of his aids of domestic violence. The article is laid out beautifully, except for this gem buried in its own paragraph midway through the article:

These accounts provide the first evidence that Mr. Paterson helped direct an effort to influence the accuser.

This is why I don’t feel compelled to recant the previous post even though Paterson’s relative guilt is now, at this point, pretty much a moot point. By floating the previous three articles – the same articles that led, directly, to Paterson’s resignation – the Times unquestionably laid the groundwork for the two sources paraphrased here to come forward. Without those articles, the sources say nothing. But if this is, quote, the “first evidence” that Mr. Paterson ever directed anyone to do anything, on what grounds are the other articles justified?

I am not saying that domestic violence is not a crime. I am not saying that Paterson is innocent. This, however, is a procedural question, and procedural questions are endemic to how institutions like the press, and like the law, are ordered; it’s the kind of thing that, not coincidentally in a show called “Law & Order,” goes wrong during the police investigation and leaves Sam Waterston glaring. No one likes to see guilty people go free; and no one likes to see crooked politicians abusing their position of power to exploit the innocent, let alone the victimized. But to build journalism on mere supposition – as the new article admits, without direct evidence – is not journalism: it’s muckraking, of the foulest, most generic kind.

Maybe the Times is feeling unloved, given all the hype – even in the Times! – surrounding the National Enquirer’s attempts to earn Pulitzer approval for their coverage of the John Edwards scandal, but whereas the Enquirer carried the day by actually implementing conventional journalistic practice, the Times here is only aping the worst habits of the tabloid press.

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What’s with the New York Times and Albany?; or, We Are Pathetic

I’d considered writing about this earlier, then figured that adding fuel to the speculative fire would only run contrary to my conviction. Lee Siegel sums up my own thoughts on the David Paterson affair today on the Daily Beast. Money quotes:

Conscientious and admirable as the Times’ reporting was, the paper’s investigation could not even determine one essential point: Whether the woman Johnson is accused of attacking was called by Paterson after the incident, or whether she called Paterson herself. In a case where wrongdoing turns on the possibility that Paterson tried to intimidate the woman into not pressing charges, who made the call is essential to know. But we don’t know.

Yet so intense is our need for an outrage-fix that we turned innuendo into the instrument of a massive high and drugged ourselves into certainty that Paterson had traduced his office in the most thrilling and intolerable way. And—voila! Paterson announces he’s terminating his campaign, and The New York Times has the scalp of a second consecutive New York governor hanging from its belt.

For weeks – it seems like years – now the Times has percolated anticipation as to what Paterson’s sin might be. Online outlets even claimed that the charges were so severe that Paterson had called the paper himself to strike some kind of a compromise (how this would ever work, once the mere existence of a transgression had become public knowledge, who knows). The paper managed all of this adroitly, first running a profile on Paterson’s driver-turned-confidante (my god, he doesn’t have a Master’s!) to yawns, and only gradually turning up the heat. Their restraint alone is admirable; it’s the kind of move that one would never expect to see in the 21st century information marketplace, where anyone wanting to sell papers (correction: online advertising space) would do well to lay out as much dirt as quickly as possible. But still, the entire exercise seems somewhat pointless. The Times hinted its way towards another gubernatorial resignation, but it wasn’t the quality of its information, or even the thoroughness of its reportage, that warranted any real mention. Really? It was the fragility of the public psyche and the gullibility of the newshounds who followed the paper’s forty-seven (okay, it was three) part installment. Such gamesmanship is to lower journalistic standards, not to raise them, but still, because of Paterson’s resignation, the Times is empowered to call it a win. Maybe it is. But not for us.

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