How the Post Started a Rumor That the Clintons are Moving to Town

The New York Times is using the word “assessment” to refer to its 1,662-word essay on its coverage of former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee. The Times ‘ first-ever “assessment,” written by executive editor Joseph Lelyveld and managing editor Bill Keller, ran on page A-2 of the Sept. 26 paper, where the News Summary runs, separated by a heavy black bar from the Corrections section.

It used to be that “Editors’ Notes” in The New York Times ran with a standard introductory caption: “Under this heading, The Times amplifies articles or rectifies what the editors consider significant lapses of fairness, balance or perspective. Corrections, also on this page, continue to deal with factual errors.”

The terminology is significant. Because in Mr. Lelyveld’s assessment of the coverage of Mr. Lee, a careful line is hewn between correction and rectification.

The Times ‘ assessment was in reaction to criticism, including from the White House, of its coverage of Mr. Lee, who after being held for nine months in solitary confinement on charges he spilled nuclear secrets to the Chinese, was released after pleading to a much lesser charge.

Though the note admits that the paper made some mistakes in what it chose to cover, it chastised the paper more for its errors of omission: ” The Times should have moved more quickly to open a second line of reporting, particularly among scientists inside and outside of the government.… There are articles we should have assigned but did not. We never prepared a full-scale profile of Dr. Lee, which might have humanized him and provided some balance.”

It also conceded there were some problems with tone: “In place of a tone of journalistic detachment from our sources, we occasionally used language that adopted the sense of alarm that was contained in official reports and was being voiced to us by investigators, members of Congress and administration officials with knowledge of the case.”

But as Catherine Mathis, head of corporate communications for The New York Times and the point woman on the Wen Ho Lee coverage, told Off the Record on Sept. 26: “On balance, we’re proud of what we did.”

That is not likely to soothe critics of The Times ‘ coverage–particularly those who see the reporting as rooted in racism. And the fact remains that a man spent nine months in solitary on charges that the Justice Department wasn’t able to prove. He was berated by F.B.I. officials, who waved the March 6, 1999, edition of The Times at him and told him the story by James Risen and Jeff Gerth “all but says your name in here.”

The Times , of course, can’t be held accountable for how the F.B.I. used its work. But the Lelyveld-Keller note contained its own omission: one of compassion for a man who had suffered great pain following the stories it had produced.

Lastly, the closest Messrs. Lelyveld and Keller come to an outright apology is to place the blame for any coverage flaws on themselves. “In those instances where we fell short of our standards in our coverage of this story, the blame lies principally with those who directed the coverage, for not raising questions that occurred to us only later. Nothing in this experience undermines our faith in any of our reporters, who remained persistent and fair-minded in their newsgathering in the face of some fierce attacks,” The Times wrote.

There is a certain nobility in editors falling on their own swords. But the question then becomes, what are the consequences of those mistakes?

Mr. Keller told Off the Record, “If you mean are we going to back away from aggressive investigative reporting, the answer is an emphatic, categorical ‘No.’ If you mean are we going to select a scapegoat to hang for shortcomings in a generally excellent body of reporting, the answer is an equally emphatic ‘No.’ Beyond that, your answer will be in the paper. Watch our journalism.”

Some have said that the strongest talent of Silicon Alley has been not technical prowess but storytelling. Jason McCabe Calacanis, the editor of Silicon Alley Reporter , has managed to leverage that skill into a Hollywood job.

He was brought on board to touch up the script for a Wayne Wang and Paul Auster film called The Center of the World . The film is about an Internet executive (played by Peter Sarsgaard, one of the murderous boys from Boys Don’t Cry ) who, despite being socially dysfunctional because of years of sitting in front of computers, manages to convince a stripper to spend three days with him in Las Vegas having kinky sex.

Mr. Calacanis worked on the Internet-business portion of the plot. “Paul Auster wrote the screenplay, but I wound up re-writing the story arch from the technical side.”

“Originally,” he said, “they were selling a domain name, which didn’t work as well as my I.P.O. idea. I read the script and met with Wayne in L.A. and told him my problems with it. He liked my suggestions and asked me to be an executive consultant on the film.”

Mr. Calacanis also managed to land a small role in the film as the C.E.O. of Mr. Sarsgaard’s Internet company. “I told Wayne I wasn’t an actor, but he and Peter pushed me and supported me, so I did it,” he said, adding that his dot-com experience prepared him. “Acting on the set was no big deal,” Mr. Calacanis said. “It was just like doing CNN, Bloomberg or Nightline . I give keynotes in front of 2,000 people.”

Mr. Calacanis seems to have picked up the movie-biz lingo: He said that he’s had other film offers since working on The Center of the World , but hasn’t accepted any yet because “I’m waiting for the right project.”

The film, which is being distributed by Artisan Entertainment, does not have a release date yet. An Artisan spokesman said it’s planned to be in theaters sometime in the first half of 2001.

Might the New York Post have gotten snookered on their front-page story on Sunday, Sept. 24, reporting that Bill and Hillary Clinton are looking to buy a condo on Central Park West or Park Avenue?

Braden Keil, who covers real estate for the New York Post , reported that the Clintons are seeking a pied-à-terre and were looking at apartments more expensive than their Chappaqua home. “Now The Post can reveal the locations of two places the first couple have been eyeing: a two bedroom condo at 500 Park Ave. and a three bedroom at 25 Central Park West,” Mr. Keil wrote.

The story was picked up on the local TV news, 1010 WINS, The Times of London, the Washington Times , the San Francisco Chronicle , the Orlando Sentinel , and several wire services.

On Sunday, though, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign denied the report. Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaign, told The New York Times : “None of it is true.”

Of course, the Clintons have been known to say such things before (at least Mr. Wolfson didn’t wag his finger when he said it). But is it just coincidence that the two properties mentioned on the Post front page also happened to be mentioned in a Corcoran Group press release sent around town on Friday, Sept. 22?

The release, which was sent to real estate reporters at outlets including the Post , the Daily News , New York magazine, and The Observer , picked up on a Sept. 15 item in Neal Travis’ column in the Post . The item had stirred up rumors of a Manhattan pied-à-terre for the Clintons, even though they are paying off a $1.36 million mortgage on their $1.7 million Chappaqua home and still have a mountain of legal bills to make disappear.

The Friday press release from the Corcoran Group included hypothetical “recommendations” by real estate broker Barbara Corcoran for the Clintons should they wish to buy a city place.

“It’s no secret that the Clintons are plotting their post-White House life,” the release read. “Although they have bought a home in Chappaqua, they are now considering a city pied-à-terre as well. What exactly are they looking for? Barbara Corcoran … has the answer.”

Ms. Corcoran goes on to recommend three properties, including 25 Central Park West and 500 Park Avenue, all of which are represented exclusively by Corcoran.

Some of the language in the Corcoran release and the Post article were similar. For instance, Ms. Corcoran identifies some of the Clintons’ “unique and special needs,” including: “Condo with no interview required to avoid the agony of a co-op board rejection; Dog-friendly neighborhood for Buddy, the first dog; Near Central Park for a power jog; Two bedrooms; Quick commute to TV.”

Near the top of his story, Mr. Keil wrote: “The Clintons are said to be sticking to condominiums so they won’t have to subject themselves to picky co-op boards. They want at least two bedrooms and it’s got to be near Central Park, where soon-to-be former First Dog Buddy and his master can take their morning jogs. Another consideration is proximity to electronic media outlets, most of which are located in the Midtown area.”

Ms. Corcoran gave a “No comment” to the Post on whether the Clintons are looking around town, but she was quoted at the bottom of the story praising the apartments her company is representing.

Anita Perrone, a Corcoran spokeswoman, said the press release wasn’t meant to be taken literally. “It was done in the spirit of ‘If the Clintons are looking, here are some ideas,’” Ms. Perrone said.

She added it’s not company practice to put out a press release–thinly veiled or not–after any hotshot client looks at a place they list. “We wouldn’t show a celebrity an apartment and then do that,” Ms. Perrone said.

She wouldn’t confirm or deny whether the Clintons have been looking at any of their properties, however. But another executive at Corcoran told Off the Record, “Did we show them an apartment? I don’t believe we did.”

The press release never explicitly says that the Clintons are not looking for a Manhattan apartment. But its light tone undermines any speculation that it was meant to deceive. It was simply the Corcoran publicity team doing its job: trying to get the company and Ms. Corcoran some favorable press, and maybe advertise some of their top properties. It was up to reporters to make the calls.

Mr. Keil declined comment, and Post editor Xana Antunes did not return a call. But sources at the Post said that there was some newsroom talk that Mr. Keil had, in fact, had the story first–and that Ms. Corcoran put out the press release to kill his exclusive. Exactly why she would want to do that is not clear, and if that were indeed so, it didn’t work–no one else bit.

Ms. Perrone said that Mr. Keil had received the release and contacted the Corcoran public relations office after it went out. A Post source said that Mr. Keil had been working on the story before Friday. Mr. Keil is said to have filed the story on Friday evening.

Dave Eggers and Neal Pollack get space in the October issue of Men’s Journal to “[send] up the state of American literature and magazine journalism” in excerpts from Mr. Pollack’s new book of parodies, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature . Trouble is, the serious articles in the magazine don’t read much different from the “send-ups.” Does that mean Men’s Journal has become a parody of itself, or just that the parodies aren’t very funny?

Men’s Journal literary editor Will Blythe (who blurbed Mr. Pollack’s book as “One of the greatest satires of authorial vanity to come along since the actual career of Norman Mailer”) said it’s all very funny–but it’s not.

“It’s amazing, actually, when you read those pieces and you think, ‘This is so egregious,’ and then you realize, tonally, so much of this stuff just is rampant in journalism,” Mr. Blythe said. He admitted his own magazine is not innocent but said, “I look around and it’s the same kind of self-aggrandizement that runs in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair .”

Mr. Pollack told Off the Record, “Actually, I thought the excerpt fit in quite well with the rest of the issue. The magazine has taken on a more literary bent of late, so aware self-parody only makes sense as part of the overall package.”

But don’t take their word for it; you try to tell the real and parody apart:

1. “Both had tears in their eyes as Rey gushed, ‘We are men, but we also have hearts! Clearly, you are men with hearts, too. You must drink this bottle of rum to celebrate your generosity!’

2. “Then we drank. We drank two gallons of Cuban rum and washed it down with vodka and red wine. Two days later we woke up on a ship headed for Haiti.”

3. “He launched himself at me like a jackal that had skipped breakfast. He grabbed my shoulders. I slipped in a pool of blood and saliva, momentarily dazed by the swirl of lights and smoke and laughter.”

4. “It’s just us heartless jarheads, in the middle of the middle of an almost-but-not-yet war. When the shit hits, you and your stamped fantasy won’t be any help to us.”

a. “The Snipers,” fiction by Anthony H. Swofford

b. Introduction to Neal Pollack, by Dave Eggers

c. “Viva los Diplomats!” by Randy Wayne White

d. “I Am the Most Famous Writer of My Time,” by Neal Pollack