After yesterday's pack coverage of Caroline Kennedy's lunch with Al Sharpton at Sylvia's, the candidate just got some exclusive and friendly Times coverage this afternoon of a quiet midtown meeting with Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
How did the City Room blog post happen? Did the Times just stumble onto Kennedy at Russo's Restaurant in the Sheraton Manhattan on Seventh Avenue at 51st Street? Or did Kennedy's handlers tip the Times for an exclusive? The Times doesn't say. In fact, it deliberately avoids any explanation of how it got the story, seemingly to protect Kennedy's privacy -- and her right to give the paper exclusive access.
The story went online at 1:21 pm, under the headline: "With Little Fanfare, Kennedy Meets Weingarten." But that headline would only be correct if the Times had found Kennedy with no help from the candidate. Alerting the Times to your whereabouts qualifies as "fanfare" to most Americans, who typically don't notify the press when they go out for coffee.
Yet the City Room account, by Jonathan B. Hicks, goes to great lengths to make it seem almost accidental that the Times witnessed the Kennedy-Weingarten meeting. Here's how the post began:
Today’s stop on the whirlwind Caroline Kennedy listening and political-exploration tour could not have been more different from the circus-like atmosphere that has been a fixture of her meetings with notable New Yorkers in recent days.
Ms. Kennedy’s meeting on Friday with Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, took place in a hotel restaurant where hardly anyone seemed to take notice of the daughter of America’s 35th president.
Sitting at a table by the restaurant’s front door, Ms. Kennedy sat alone for a short time until Ms. Weingarten arrived. The two embraced warmly and spoke in an animated fashion for about an hour over nothing more than coffee, with Ms. Kennedy frequently taking notes on a notepad.
How did Hicks have any idea how long Kennedy had been there, or how the meeting went? Without attribution, he makes it apparent -- although not explicit -- that he was an eyewitness to these events. Underscoring that impression is the photograph with the post, taken by Times staff photographer Ruby Washington. It's a shot of Kennedy and Weingarten taken in apparent closeup, again suggesting the cooperation of both.
Another clue to the fact that the event was staged for the Times: after it was over, Kennedy and Weingarten stopped to answer a few questions from the Times reporter, accompanied by Kenndy's political consultant Josh Isay. (It's not clear whether Isay was at the meeting as well; he doesn't appear in the photograph, and Hicks doesn't elaborate.)
As usual, Kennedy revealed nothing in her brief interview:
“We had a productive discussion and we look forward to working together,” Ms. Kennedy said, in the very few words she uttered to a reporter afterward. “I look forward to working with her.”
But wait -- that comment does reveal something, doesn't it? In fact, it almost sounds as though Kennedy and Weingarten have struck a deal! But Hicks lets the quote pass without note or followup, and continues with his non-interview:
Before leaving with her political consultant, Josh Isay, Ms. Kennedy was asked her impressions of the last week, since her interest became widely known in the United States Senate seat now held by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“It’s been really interesting,” she said, heading out of the hotel.
It's worth noting -- and Hicks does, eventually -- that Weingarten herself has been mentioned as a candidate for the Senate seat being created by Hillary Clinton's departure. Hicks pressed Weingarten for her opinion of Kennedy as a possible Senator, but got no clear endorsement or dismissal. “The governor has to make this decision and it’s only for him to make," Weingarten told Hicks.
After addressing the meeting and interviews, Hicks then marveled for a few paragraphs about how Kennedy pulled off a private encounter in the midst of so much media attention. Again, no mention is made of how -- or whether -- the Times came upon this meeting through shoe-leather reporting or with the aid of Kennedy herself.
Throughout, Hicks tries to imply that the story may have resulted from reportorial ingenuity, without explicitly saying so:
Still, it seemed unusual that Ms. Kennedy could sit unnoticed in such a public place, particularly in a week where her image has been on television, in newspapers, and on blogs and in Internet video.
One explanation could be that the restaurant primarily caters to hotel guests in the morning, many of whom are from other countries.
(Indeed, one man in his early 30s, visiting from Germany, asked “why the lady at the table next to us was being photographed? When told that it was Ms. Kennedy, he said: “Isn’t she running for something?”)
Dana Walcott, the food and beverage manager of Russo’s Steak, Seafood and Pasta Restaurant, where Ms. Kennedy and Ms. Weingarten met, offered another explanation for the lack of notice.
“I didn’t especially notice them, but then, we are in Midtown,” Ms. Walcott said. “We’re a high volume place. And when people have a busy morning, they pretty much go about their business and don’t pay too much attention to others.”
But all this belies the obvious fact that Kennedy and Weingarten weren't alone -- a Times reporter and photographer were there to record the meeting, and with their knowledge.
So is Hicks just gloating over the fact that no one tipped his competitors to his exclusive? Or is he deliberately trying to cover up the seemingly obvious truth that yet again, the Times has been manipulated into covering a controlled Caroline Kennedy media event?
One thing is for sure: you won't learn the answers to those questions from reading the Times.