Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on the
Spitzer Circus

Sure, it was a great New York news day. Big ups to The New York Times for breaking the story and reporting the hell out of it. But if the Times wants to follow through, they'll start thinking like others have begun to (check the comments) and examine why Spitzer was under so much scrutiny. Why were the feds looking so closely at his finances? Why this prostitution ring in particular? If this ends up netting only Spitzer and some random sleazeballs (i.e. no big money, no other big names), then there's a question as to why it ever happened in the first place.

On a journalistic note: This piece from Editor & Publisher examines what other newsrooms did with the news of the prostitution bust (before anyone knew it was Spitzer). No one seems to have any inkling that it was going to catch a big fish, except apparently the Albany Times-Union:

"[Editor Rex Smith] said the paper had filed a freedom of information act request Monday morning, before the Times story broke, for Spitzer's travel records from the February dates on which he supposedly met the prostitute in Washington, D.C."

That seems like a rational and prudent move on the part of the Times-Union. So why did the NY Times move so much faster, with high-level editors pulling late weekend shifts? The first piece I linked to mentions that veteran Metro reporter William Rashbaum got a tip that "Client 9" in the prostitution bust was a "New York official." Who gave him the tip might be a fact we'll never know, but it's the key to the whole thing. It's probably the only reason the Times was able to break this story, and who the tipster is and what his motivations are might indicate why Spitzer's identity leaked in the first place. Looks like Rashbaum's old-school experience paid off big time.

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