With 48 hours of one another, three NYT star metro correspondents published two parallel narratives of gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's tawdry love affair, out-of-wedlock daughter and confession -- and their versions appear to contradict each other.
Regardless of who's right -- or whether the apparent contradiction was intentional -- how was it possible that the NYT published the two versions of events in such quick succession, without any acknowledgement that the second version didn't fit with the first?
Our stories begin last Saturday, when Dominus -- who writes an entertaining twice-weekly metro column called Big City -- published an interview with Cathy Paladino, the wife of the surprise Republican nominee. In the Dominus version, the wife of the candidate told in refreshing candor how she learned of Paladino's affair:
Since her husband, Carl, won the Republican nomination for governor of New York last week, the only story in the race as compelling as his upset victory has been their personal back story: that her husband not only had an affair, not only fathered a child with that other woman, but also told his wife of 40 years about it all the same week that their 29-year-old son, Patrick, was killed in a car accident. He pulled her aside, Ms. Paladino said, as she was looking for family photographs to bring to the wake.
“He said he was very sorry to cause me pain, the relationship with the mother was over ... and there was a child,” she said.
Cathy Paladino has repeated the story to other reporters, and it turned up in Erica Orden's account in Monday's Wall Street Journal.
But in the NYT's page-one Monday Paladino profile -- a seemingly exhaustive, 2,585-word portrait of the candidate -- reporters Barbaro and Halbfinger ignored the Cathy Paladino narrative in favor of a different one, that cast Carl Paladino in a more favorable light:
As his public involvement intensified, he was harboring an agonizing secret in his private life: He had had an affair with a female employee, which resulted in a child named Sarah. He had begun to tell his children, but he could not bring himself to inform his wife. “I adore her,” Mr. Paladino said. “I didn’t want to bring that hurt.”
His son Patrick, then 29 and struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol, proposed a deal: In exchange for his entering a substance-abuse program, his father would have to tell his wife, Cathy, about Sarah, then 9.
Each man kept his end of the bargain, and Sarah, whom Mr. Paladino supports financially, has been fully incorporated into his family.
But in March 2009, a few weeks after leaving rehab, Patrick lost control of his sport utility vehicle on a darkened highway and crashed into a row of trees.
The entire Barbaro/Halbfinger story is told in chronological narrative -- thus leaving the reader (especially a reader who missed the Dominus interview) with a very different sense of how Paladino handled his indiscretion.
Indeed, as we know from the Dominus version, their son never knew that Carl Paladino "kept his end of the bargain," as the reporters put it -- having died in a traffic accident before his father confessed.We emailed Barbaro, Halbfinger and Dominus in an effort to reconcile the two versions. Here's Barbaro's reply:
I am happy to respond to your request for comment, but I respond only on the condition that you publish my email in its entirely, without edits. If you do not agree to these terms, then you may not use the following:
There is no conflict between Sue Dominus’s column on Saturday and the news story, written by David Halbfinger and me, which ran on Monday.
Sue reported that Carl Paladino told his wife Cathy about his extramarital affair – and the child that resulted from it -- after his son Patrick’s death.
We reported a new detail about that confession: that Patrick had asked his father to tell his mother about the affair as a condition of his entering a substance abuse program.
We did not specify the precise moment that Mr. Paladino told his wife about the affair and the child, and no such timeline is outlined in our story. We simply said that both men kept their end of Patrick’s proposed bargain: Patrick would undergo drug treatment (which he did) and Mr. Paladino would tell his wife Cathy about his daughter Sarah (which he did).
Barbaro's right in saying that their story didn't specify the precise moment Paladino told his wife about the affair -- which strikes us as nothing to brag about. Why add one new detail, and leave out one old one? There's no net gain for the reader in that.
But Barbaro's wrong in saying that his story doesn't suggest a timeline. It's written in narrative form, which conveys to the reader a chronological sequence of events. The reporters clearly state that Paladino informed his wife of the affair and the daughter it produced -- and then report that Patrick died. That presents an inescapable conclusion that one event occurred before the other.
Which it didn't.
Why did Halbfinger and Barbaro choose to leave out the compelling details of the confession already reported elsewhere? Barbaro didn't address that question in his email to The NYTPicker, so we can only guess that Paladino -- or someone close to him -- wanted to make his confession appear more noble and above-board than it did in the Dominus version. The lack of source attribution makes it difficult to know for sure.
But an even more important question is how the NYT --both the reporters and their editors -- chose to leave a revealing fact out of the Paladino page-one narrative, after it already appeared in the NYT.
It's a confusing and contradictory approach to the facts that leaves the average reader less than fully informed -- and careful readers wondering who to believe.