Hey kids! Remember that time when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving his perplexed staff behind to guess that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, except that actually he was off having an affair with his Latin American soul mate? Good times. And the media responded to the news with extensive offers to give Sanford some help during his time of need, the crowning example coming from David Gregory, who was all: Hey, Mark Sanford, why don't you use Meet The Press as a venue for you to "frame the conversation how you really want to... and then move on?"
Well, taking inspiration from those revelations, Gawker's John Cook has gone back to the future, obtaining the emails between the flacks at the New York governor's office and various New York Times reporters during the reporting of Eliot Spitzer's "Client #9" story, and the results are basically MARK SANFORD x 1,300 pages:
You'd think that, with blood in the water, the traditional coziness that develops between official flacks and the beat reporters who have to talk to them every day would break down into some kind of last-man-standing slugfest. But in the Spitzer case, the opposite happened. The revelations upended the worlds of both reporter and flack alike, and the uncertainty, long hours, and breakneck pace of the scandal actually seemed to throw them together as they worked toward what seems, if you read the e-mail exchanges, like a common goal of getting the news out and behind them.
Which makes sense on a human level. But sometimes good reporting--especially of the government watchdog variety--requires an inhuman suspension of compassion. The infractions documented in these e-mails are misdemeanors, but--in addition to being an unvarnished peek inside the media machinery--they're indicative of the creeping social and professional alliances that inevitably develop between PR handlers and their overworked, easily manipulated charges in the press corps. And they give the lie to the myth of the vigilant watchdog press that keeps the government on its toes. Next time you hear New York Times editor Bill Keller claim that newspapers are uniquely situated to do the "hard, expensive, sometimes dangerous work [of] quality journalism," remember that his reporter broke the story of Spitzer's dalliances with prostitutes. But also remember the time his reporter e-mailed Gov. Paterson's flack to request permission to call Paterson's former mistress.
Oh, hie thee hence for a taste of some of the extreme deference from various reporters, ranging from "could you flacks maybe just tell me what to say" to "shucks, I'm even sorry I have to break this mean old news on your bosses!" At one point, a Times reporter even asks for permission to speak to Paterson's mistress. My favorite moment comes when Lieutenant Governor David Paterson's flack demonstrates more concern for newspaper consumers than the reporter writing the story. Also? From now on, I'm checking into the Mayflower Hotel under the name Errol Cockfield.