Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Within 48 Hours, NYT Publishes Two Contradictory Versions Of Carl Paladino's Affair-Love Child Confession. Which One's Right?

Whose NYT version do you believe? The column by Susan Dominus, or the page-one story by Michael Barbaro and David Halbfinger?

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.


Anonymous said...

You'd think the basic rationality of informational bartering would take care of this, but the reporters' refusal to incorporate the cheated wife's bit from the Dominus interview is puzzling.

Afterall, this is a republican candidate for with a bastard child and a killed first born, who stands to either lose or win an election.

Anonymous said...

Fuck you NYTPicker, you often infuriate, but today you're just an asshole.

your sentence "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" is vicious, and agenda-driven, and against the very tenants of what you purport to do here -- uphold facts.

why don't you hazard some other "guesses" while you're out trashing reputable journalists' well-written and non contradicting stories.

How about, "We can only guess that Paladino foisted lollipops on the reporters, like he did in Saturday's Bay Ridge parade to bribe them in to making him look more noble"?

or "We can only guess that Paladino threatened to surround their houses with cement as he did upstate if they didn't construct a sentence that a no body blogger could intentionally misread"?

Ever think that editing, word choice, syntax and storytelling or the simple fact that THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THE FACTS AS STATED IN BARBARO and HALBFINGER'S STORY, thus they'd have reason to question themselves, might be a good guess for "what's happening"?

Either you hate Barbaro and Halbfinger or you hate Paladino and choose to skew your reading of the facts so that you can take your vengence at one or the other of them. Either way, you're just embarassing yourself.

Anonymous said...

Look, I take pretty much everything in the New York Times as suspect. The paper has lost so much of its reputation that I simply can't risk trusting it anymore like I used to.

Two contradictory versions of a story? So? That's happened before.

Ever see someone who survived a really aggressive cancer? The heavy-duty chemo, the brain fog, the surgery, the scarring, the weight lose, and they're never quite the same again? That's kind of what happened to the Times. The management, fighting mightily for the noblest of purposes -- ensuring their pensions, enormous salaries and obscene perks would continue -- gutted the paper.

The damage is permanent. At least in the scale of a journalism career. It will take decades to repair all the butchery. And that's assuming the paper doesn't end up going broke.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, fuck you NYTPicker!

Anonymous said...

As always, I love the nasty anonymous coments from people who clearly work at the NYT. Last night's missive looks like it's from the pen of Mr. Halbfinger or Mr. Barbaro.

To their points, I would say that it's perfectly fair for NYTPicker to play the role of reader, and speculate on the reasoning behind the NYT's editorial decisions. It isn't the act of an asshole or a motherfucker. It's the proper role of a media critic.

I have my problems with this website at times. The goofy humor seems out of place. But I've always appreciated its avoidance of snark and foul language. Keep it up, assholes.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you've provoked some rage, and it's always better to contain on-demand anger with eye candy and more formal trophies, so please compensate, like, if you could please update with the following correction: "His wife obviously feels adored by him, and he is a fine role model of the perfect husband and father that NY parents and hopefuls need and deserve. The very talented New York Times New York reporters are wonderful for asking all the poignant questions, the very best money could and should buy." Thank you everybody, and please leave the TV on so it logs you as a loyalist.

Anonymous said...

It's always awkward to ask these questions, but average readers and voters might or might not want to know where does such a gubernatorial candidate stands on mandating sexual health and reproductive education in state-funded schools, given his past slippage on personal reproductive control?

Anonymous said...

The reporters chose to be chronologically unspecific, despite the specific evidence, albeit, a adulterated wife's narrative.

There's no shame in pointing this out.

But to go from there to say that they did it to spite Dominus, or to undermine Cathy, or to pat Carl on the back for his upstate-pleasing mastery of the metaphorical pliers is a natural stretch, and lets out too much room for muck. Not saying this to deceive you, but to clean up, you used to got to balance with pacifying symbols, these may include, orange juice, semi-nude girls ready to receive, and do you really wanna know more?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10:53 pm wrote:

"your sentence... is vicious and agenda-driven, and against the very tenants of what you purport to do here -- uphold facts".

Yeah, NYTpicker, I wouldn't want to be one of your tenants.