As we observe the shifting of the journalistic landscape -- daily papers closing, massive cuts in broadcast staffs and budgets, the rise of so-called "citizen journalism," and unchecked and untrained online journalists "reporting" unsourced rumors -- a vote of gratitude and respect is due The New York Times, which has brought down two New York governors inside of two years.
With old-fashioned reporting, by working its sources, tracking down tips and rumors, the paper was, almost precisely two years ago, first to disclose Eliot Spitzer's patronizing of prostitutes, which led to his resignation within days. In fact, Danny Hakim, a top-notch state capitol reporter in Albany, and William K. Rashbaum, a careful and seasoned criminal justice reporter, won the 2009 Pultizer for Breaking News Coverage for a story that first saw the light of day on the Times website, eight hours before the first edition would hit the street.
Not surprisingly, it is Hakim and Rashbaum again, with able assists from other Times reporters, in the bylines on this week's stories on New York Governor David Paterson's improper entanglement with domestic abuse charges against one of his closest aides, David W. Johnson. The Times stories, today, seem to have finally persuaded the embattled "accidental governor" who succeeded Spitzer to abandon his increasingly futile campaign for election in November.
The Times endured a barrage of criticism, both before and after publication of the Paterson stories. First, word leaked that a giant exposé was coming -- something so big that would force Paterson to resign. The suspicion had been -- perhaps due to Paterson's bizarre press conference on taking office when he and his wife admitted to marital infidelities and drug use, or to recent photographs and allegations of his involvement with various women -- that the story would reveal sex and drug indiscretions even greater that the Spitzer stories. When what came out -- after what seemed like interminable delays and Paterson whining that he was being victimized by the Times' failure to quash rumors in other publications -- was a story detailing the questionable background of Johnson, who had attained a high level of trust and influence in the Paterson administration, there was disappointment all around. To quote Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?" Bloggers, reporters, pundits and columnists were furious at the Times for not having come through with what they had hoped for -- a salacious death blow to Team Paterson.
In the ensuing days, the Times revealed more (and here is where I have my only possible quarrel with their publication of the Paterson series: did they report as they learned, or did they dribble stuff out over days for maximum lethal impact?). This included the fact that both the State Police and Paterson himself had contacted the alleged domestic abuse victim, ultimately leading to her non-appearance at a hearing in the case and resulting in the abuse complaint's dismissal. And to today's announcement that Paterson would not seek election to a full term as governor.
It is instructive for us to recognize and acknowledge that this is the kind of journalism that can only be accomplished with experienced, plugged-in, professional and smart reporters for a publication that gives them the time and support they need to do their jobs accurately and fairly. It is a gift to the citizens of New York and a gift to all of us who admire, cherish and crave great journalism.