Friday, November 7, 2008

State of Disgrace

It's official: Eliot Spitzer is disgraced.

Twice in today's paper, the former governor had his title introduced with that heinous modifier -- the first such time the paper has attached the word to Spitzer since he resigned in March.

The first mention came on page one, in an above-the-fold account of the decision not to bring criminal charges against Spitzer for his use of a high-priced prostitute last winter. "The announcement...ended almost eight months of uncertainty for the disgraced governor," wrote reporters Danny Hakim and William K. Rashbaum, who a few paragraphs later reminded readers (in the story's third paragraph) that it was The Times that broke the scandal. True? yes. Relevant to today's story? Hard to see how.

The Hakim-Rashbaum account of the U.S. Attorney's decision had an air of disappointment throughout, devoting hundreds of words to reminding us just how horrible Spitzer had behaved -- and how poorly he performed as governor, a fact quite irrelevant to today's events. "Mr. Spitzer struggled to adjust to being governor," the reporters felt duty-bound to mention, even though his resignation had nothing to do with his performance as governor, but rather his performance in bed.

A few pages later, the metro columnist Clyde Haberman repeated the reference, after a few introductory cliches. Today's began: "President-elect Barack Obama hardly needs unsolicited advice from the bleachers."

He went on: "Let's start with Jan. 20. For the Obama presidency, it will be Day 1. Here's a tip: Never, ever call it Day 1. The last guy who routinely used that phrase didn't make it past Day 442. That was New York's disgraced former Governor, Eliot Spitzer..."

Haberman repeatedly ridiculed Spitzer's campaign promise that everything in Albany would change on "Day 1" of his administration -- before his election and after -- intimating that Spitzer's choice of phrase was portentous.

The phrase must not have seemed quite so portentous on the various occasions when Haberman himself used it in New York Times articles. On June 1, 1993, Haberman referred to "Day 1" in talks between Israelis and Palestinians; on April 17, 2002, Haberman used "Day 1" to describe the first day the reborn New York Sun went to press.

Perhaps the disgraced governor can take solace in the fact that his tormenters aren't above a little hypocrisy of their own.

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