Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Hate Defending The NYT This Early In The Morning. But Today's David Paterson Story Deserves Praise, Not Attack.

The strategy worked.

Someone who wanted to diminish the impact of today's David Paterson story in the NYT by Danny Hakim and William Rashbaum -- maybe someone in Paterson's office, or perhaps someone jealous of Hakim's Pulitzer Prize -- started rumors a few weeks ago that the NYT was working on a Paterson sex blockbuster. The rumormonger knew the story would never live up to the hype. The final product would be deemed dull.

And that's how it turned out. Gawker has declared today's Paterson story "boring," and dozens of commenters have already weighed in on the NYT website with their verdict: dull, not worth the effort, and a disappointment. Specifically, readers have attacked the piece for its dependence on anonymous sources, and its thin premise.

We disagree.

The revelation that a top personal aide to the governor of New York State has been repeatedly accused of violence against women strikes us as significant, relevant and worth the space. David Johnson apparently has the sort of access to the governor that makes him a significant player in New York State government, and not by the voters' choice. He's worthy of scrutiny by any standard.

It stands to reason that his accusers -- women who he has allegedly attacked -- would be reluctant to identify themselves, out of fear. Yes, there's some dispute over the allegations, and yes, the Paterson camp has produced women who contradict them. Like most stories that involve abuse against defenseless women by powerful men, it's a nebulous story with no definitive smoking gun -- its weaknesses amplified by fear.

In our society, it still takes tremendous courage for women to accuse men of harassment and abuse with their names attached. Anita Hill comes to mind as a rare and noble example of a woman who dared to subject herself to attack, when she came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The repercussions can be enormous, and we don't fault any woman for opting to remain anonymous in making such charges against a high-profile political figure.

But we applaud the NYT for bringing the story to light, and raising a legitimate question about a man David Paterson has chosen as his top personal aide. And we admire the paper for refusing to cave to public pressure, and hype its story for the sake of satisfying a hungry mob fueled by rumor.

Today's story stands the test of legitimacy and should be taken at face value by readers who demand the best journalism -- not the most sensational -- from the NYT.

8 comments:

Roberto said...

"The revelation that a top personal aide to the governor of New York State has been repeatedly accused of violence against women strikes us as significant, relevant and worth the space."

Certainly by the standards of the political apocalypse we were expecting, the story was a yawn.

As an expose of odious behavior by a powerful person who has flown high and far, very quickly, the story lacked punch. The women were reluctant to identify themselves? Well then, get better secondhand corroboration from witnesses, responding police officers or others with firsthand knowledge of Johnson's relations with women.

Poke a bit harder at the appointment of someone whose chief qualification to be "one of the most senior people in the governor's administration" appears to be height and a booming voice. [Yes, perhaps "every now and then it was good to have a big guy in the office", but ... is Patrick Ewing really happy as an assistant coach for the Orlando Magic?]

Explain why Johnson was treated, on his second arrest, as a youthful offender. Is that standard for second-offense 18-year-olds? Perhaps it is, but I suspect it isn't.

Poke a little harder when soliciting comment from the mayor's hand-picked 'witness', who says for the record: "if there had been anything violent, I’m trained in domestic violence, so I would have had a duty to file a report.” The words "would have had a duty to" sound particularly well chosen. Are Times readers to believe this woman has always done her duty? Or might we believe that an admitted 'friend' of Johnson's might have – as the mayor says he is doing – gave Johnson a break?

The story is legitimate ... it just doesn't hit hard enough. The mayor's weaseling, and that of his aides, is permitted to stand, and Johnson, STUNNINGLY, is quoted only via "a spokesman for the governor".

Story idea win. Reportorial (and editorial) fail.

[But the governor breathes a massive sigh of relief anyway ... Johnson can and will take a metaphorical bullet for the governor, but as of this story, he doesn't have to.]

Anonymous said...

Interesting point, Roberto, but I'll go with Nytpicker on this. There was enough in the story to raise the point, which was all the Times needed to do. It isn't their job to try and convict the guy. It says a lot about Paterson that this is his right-hand man, and that was the point. I found it interesting and well done.

Brett said...

Anita Hill comes to mind as a rare and noble example of a woman who dared to subject herself to attack, when she came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harrassment.

That's a joke, right? False accusations of sexual impropriety in a coordinated, partisan attempt to keep a judge from being confirmed are noble? News to me.

Anonymous said...

Harassment has only one "r."

Jim said...

My issue is more about play. Front page, above the fold seems a stretch.

Roberto said...

I'm going to disagree, Anonymous. It's the job of the National Enquirer (with a tip of the hat to their Tiger Woods scoop, so let me substitute the Weekly World News) to "raise the point". It's the job of "the paper of record" to nail that sucker down tight.

I agree it was interesting; I'm just saying it needed to go further, that it was weaker than the material warranted. And I bet the smile on Paterson's face today backs me up.

Anonymous said...

Anita Hill? Geez. Her virgin ears heard less from Clarence Thomas's mouth than she hears from a single episode of neo-feminist "Sex In the City"-- and that's if we take her side of the story. Why is she even mentioned in the same context as violence against women?

Sheesh. Stick to the point.

Anonymous said...

By any standard it's a non-story. Any standard, that is, except The Slimes'.
When viewed in the context in which it's proffered, i.e. the desperate need for the Dems to depose Paterson so they can run a stronger candidate, the non-story makes perfect sense. But only by the standards of the Dem party's mouthpiece.