Today, the New York Times' Clark Hoyt used his Public Editor column to address the recent shitshow and rumors surrounding the Times' forthcoming story on New York governor David Patterson. And Bill Keller interestingly called us out in it.
Interestingly, because Keller and the New York Times are taking these rumors and—intentionally or not—controlling a news cycle and hoarding traffic, all while declining to respond to requests for comment.
Interestingly, because Keller and Hoyt fed even more bullshit into this non-story today, as they addressed it in Hoyt's column, writing off every other news organization who reported on it as essentially beneath them. Keller managed to do this while feeding no new information into the story, and refusing to address anything they were or weren't looking into regarding Paterson. Essentially, Hoyt's column today is like everything else the Times has (or hasn't) done with these rumors, as it only serves to drum up interest in something that—if it isn't damaging—might only be interesting because of the speculation about it.
On February 5th, John Koblin of the New York Observer tweeted that he heard a rumor about a story regarding Gov. Paterson in the New York Times that was "big" and "damaging." This was the same day the New York Daily News reported on a "bombshell" Paterson story that was out there somewhere.
A bunch of news outlets picked up on the rumor, including us. Koblin wrote an article last week about the rumor cycle that's as meta as it is fascinating, and it came with a nice chart detailing the path of the rumor which has so far amounted to nothing but a pissed off Paterson calling the Times out for letting the rumor fester.
You'll note the involvement of the New York Daily News, former Gawker writers Choire Sicha and Alex Balk at The Awl, The Albany Times-Union, New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, a local news station, the Associated Press, and the New York Times themselves, among others. This is where it gets interesting, especially when Times executive editor Bill Keller gets quoted in Hoyt's column today after Hoyt asks Keller why the Times didn't disclose whether or not there was any kind of bombshell story in the wings.
He said that addressing rumors just "spreads them and gives them an aura of credibility, even if the intent is the opposite. For The Times to issue a statement saying, ‘We are not investigating rumors about the sex life or drug use or financial shenanigans of Public Figure X' doesn't clear the good name of Public Figure X. It simply announces that we've heard the rumors and for some reason chose not to look into them." It would be even worse, he said, if the paper said it was looking into rumors about Public Figure X. Keller added that the paper generally does not talk about what it is working on because news is a competitive business.
He said Paterson's adversaries "are doing their best to flush out any negative material we might be looking into, and, in the absence of that, they are letting innuendo do their dirty work for them. The governor and his supporters are trying to neutralize any negative material that may come out by portraying it in advance as an unsavory muckraking exercise. Gawker and the Drudge Report and The New York Post are wallowing in all of this because that's what they do."
Keller seems to entirely miss the point that his paper has done nothing but obfuscate the truth of a story—their story, which has yet to emerge—even more by commenting on it on their own blog in an unbylined post, and by letting these rumors fester. They've already proven themselves substantial and newsworthy simply by the fact that the Governor's had to take to the news to address them. What else needs to happen for them to talk about what they're reporting?
They've naturally declined comment on this story to other news outlets asking about it. Like us, when we picked up on last Sunday night's Business Insider rumor that the Times story would leak the next day, and that the Governor's resignation would follow it.
After we received an on-the-record denial from the governor's office, the Times still wouldn't comment on their story. We left word for Metro editor Joe Sexton, and naturally, heard nothing back. I doubt we're the only ones to have tried to get anything. Sexton's comment in Hoyt's column, which came from last week's CityRoom post, hasn't changed:
"Obviously we are not responsible for what other news organizations are reporting. It's not coming from The Times."
Not that he knows where the rumors are coming from.
Not that anybody knows. And obviously, the Times doesn't want to open up a story they're in the middle of working on.
Is it possible that these rumors are coming from the Times internally? Absolutely. And if you're running the paper, why the hell would the Times comment? The longer the rumors and truth stay in the air, the more speculation about what's going on at the Times exists, and that speculation inherently leads to curious eyes (and traffic).
Bill Keller not only has his head up his ass if he's simply writing off other news outlets as "wallowing" for the sake of doing so, because that's our "purpose," but he also starts to sound like anyone else who's ever been reported on: combative and dismissive. Wallowing? Not so much.
We were reporting a story, which we did both when we first posted about the rumor just as we did when we were on the phone with the governor's office, getting a denial the Times wouldn't address, thereby shutting down part of a rumor. I'm pretty sure that's reporting.
Sexton's story became a newsworthy item in and of itself, which is something they don't enjoy. Among other things, it could affect their reporting of the story, which doesn't help their cause. And nothing makes reporters more uncomfortable than being newsworthy themselves. It's part of the reason and culture around why organizations like the New York Times have always taken issues with organizations like ours: the tunnel-vision of not being able to hear a call coming from inside the building.