Sunday, February 8, 2009

Clark Hoyt Commends NYT Reporters For Clever Re-Packaging Of Daily News Scoop.

In his Public Editor column this morning, Clark Hoyt raises an important question that the NYTPicker brought up on January 23: what about all those pesky web Caroline Kennedy scoops that turned out to be wrong? Shouldn't they be corrected, too?

But as usual, the NYT Public Apologist Editor frames his discussion around what his employer has done right lately. This week, he leads off his column with an extended replay of what he called a "smart, useful revelation" in the NYT's Wednesday story about Gov. Paterson's behind-the-scenes media manipulations -- Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore reporting on the role played by Paterson media strategist Judy Smith in leaking false stories to reporters, including at the NYT.

It was one of those stories -- about Kennedy's supposed withdrawal from the race due to tax and nanny issues -- that turned out to be false.

But at 2:48 a.m. on January 26, 2009 -- nine days before the NYT piece appeared -- political reporter Liz Benjamin of the New York Daily News posted the Smith scoop on her "Daily Politics" blog. Under the headline, "Hired PR gun doomed Caroline," Benjamin wrote:

Judy Smith, a Washington-based PR guru and former Bush White House deputy press secretary, orchestrated the ill-conceived character attack on Kennedy, sources said Sunday....

There was an internal agreement among Paterson staffers to refrain from attacking Kennedy. Then came the leaks from inside the governor's office that Kennedy's supposed tax, nanny and marital problems had tanked her bid for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat - taking many staffers by surprise.

"There were radically different statements all coming out of the governor's camp at the exact same time," a Paterson adviser said.

The administration released a formal statement insisting no information gathered from candidates for Clinton's seat led to Kennedy's withdrawal.

Yet it was Paterson who signed off on Smith's plan to release dirt on Kennedy, the sources said.

Benjamin's post went on to note:

Smith's client list has included Monica Lewinsky, the family of murdered Washington intern Chandra Levy, Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson, who is battling corruption charges, and scandal-scarred former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

Paterson has used campaign cash to pay Smith's firm, Impact Strategies, $64,367 since October, according to his Jan. 15 filing with the state Board of Elections.

The Hakim-Confessore story, nearly two weeks later, had none of Benjamin's background or perspective. And yet Hoyt characterizes it this morning as a scoop that helps mend the mistake it made two weeks earlier on the web.

There, Hoyt notes with annoyance, Hakim and Confessore reported the rumors being spread by the Paterson camp. The public editor chides them for not being more careful, and for not including the paper's own mistakes in its recent narrative:

But it should have gone further. It should have examined The Times’s own role in the story — posting the orchestrated leak on its Web site and allowing “a person close to Gov. David A. Paterson” to make nasty comments about Kennedy anonymously.

That's where Hoyt draws the line. He should consider looking farther back, and finding the multitude of mistakes made along the way by Hakim and Confessore & Co.

Has the public editor forgotten the NYT's original report? That one -- on the night the story broke that Kennedy was about to withdraw from the race -- falsely led readers to believe that Kennedy had bowed out because of her uncle's ill health. That story ran on the NYT website for most of an evening in which readers were scrambling to find out what was going on.

That story no longer exists in the NYT archive. But a summary of it can be found in Sewell Chan's morning roundup n the NYT's City Room blog the next morning:

Ms. Kennedy did not elaborate, but a person who spoke to her suggested that her concerns about the health of her uncle, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who suffers from brain cancer and was hospitalized after a seizure on Tuesday, contributed to her decision.

That may have been the last reference in print to that version of events, which never made much sense to anyone, given that Sen. Kennedy had been diagnosed with brain cancer months earlier. The Paterson-Smith scenario turned out to be far more plausible to a hungry news media, which included Hakim and Confessore.

Why doesn't Hoyt hold Hakim and Confessore accountable for that equally false story? Why haven't the reporters busted the Kennedy source who lied to them that night? Why doesn't Hoyt give credit to Liz Benjamin for breaking the Judy Smith story, and ask the NYT what took it so long to follow up?

Also, why didn't the NYT give Benjamin credit for her scoop in its story? Their version had only a few narrative details not already covered in the Daily News:

According to advisers to the governor who were involved in the process, the leaks against Ms. Kennedy were coordinated by Judith A. Smith, a consultant who has been acting as the governor’s top communications strategist.

On Jan. 22, the morning after Ms. Kennedy withdrew, Ms. Smith spoke to Mr. Paterson, then went to the governor’s Midtown Manhattan offices, the advisers said.

There, she told at least two people to call major media outlets around the state. She instructed them to tell reporters that the governor had been dismayed by Ms. Kennedy’s public auditioning for the job, that he never intended to select her as senator, and that the tax and nanny issues had led her to pull out of consideration.

The NYT February 4 story adds detail to the account, but most of that was implied in Benjamin's story.

As usual, Clark Hoyt's column raises as many questions as it answers, if not more.


Anonymous said...

You know what makes this even funnier? You appear to have removed your post from February 4th in which you first mentioned Judy Smith and the NYTimes article, made no mention of the Daily News article, and in fact made it clear you had not read it.


It's true, the NYTPicker briefly posted an item about the Judy Smith article. We'd missed the Daily News story. We kept researching and eventually found it. (Presumably, Hakim & Confessore had seen it when it ran.) In light of it, our post seemed less urgent so we took it down. It was online for less than ten minutes. When Hoyt wrote his column, it gave us a context to address the same issue.

Thanks for writing, and giving us an opportunity to explain.

Anonymous said...

The post still shows up in your RSS feed, so it's not completely gone; chances are others have read it. Given the aim of your blog it seems silly for you to criticize the NYT while redacting your own from-the-hip posts. You are only a blog, not a newspaper, but you do have complete editorial control over your content. Lead by example: explanation is nice, but deletion/cover-up is not.

Anonymous said...

Also, the post as it exists in your RSS feed states that a reader emailed you the fruits of research, not that you "kept researching and eventually found it."

This blog is written by a group of journalists, right?


We deleted the post because it reported the Judith Smith mention as a NYT scoop. The post came down when we later learned (not from a reader) that Judith Smith's identity had already been reported by the NYDN.