Yesterday, The New York Times dropped a juicy political micro-scandal: Marc Cenedella, the deep-pocketed Republican activist expected to challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012, appears to have endorsed—if not written—a blog about, among other things, sex and drugs.
Under Mr. Cenedella’s photo and name were headlines like, “Sexy vs. Skanky,” “He Stole My Weed,” and “A New Holiday for Men.” (You know, the one where you give your boyfriend steak and a blow job “to show your man how much you care for him?”) The Tucker Max b-material was hosted on the site of Mr. Cenedella’s company, theladders.com, a popular job search website.
In the era of Christopher Lee and Anthony Weiner, it takes more than a little Internet muckracking to make us blush. Far more interesting was the disclosure halfway through.
“The Times was made aware of the entries by an opponent of Mr. Cenedella,” reporter Raymond Hernandez wrote.
Since when does The New York Times disclose the origin of its stories?
“We expected high interest in this story, and tried to anticipate the questions that readers—and people like you—might have,” metro/politics editor Carolyn Ryan explained to Off the Record in an e-mail yesterday. “We thought it would be helpful to provide as much context as possible about how this story emerged.”
It probably wasn’t much of a revelation to media and politics insiders, anyway. Even the most diligent beat reporter is far less likely to trawl the hidden URLs hosted on their subject’s company website than, say, an opposition researcher. Given the questionable nature of the materials, disclosing their source seemed to answer to public editor Arthur Brisbane’s recent admonishment of Times reporters for failing to elucidate the motives and distortions behind their subject’s sound bytes.
The transparency also served to draw a clear reportorial line between the smeary tips and rigorous investigative reporting.
“Just for the record (and as you may sense, this is a bit of a pebble in my shoe ) not every investigative story has its origins in an opponent’s campaign,” Ms. Ryan added. “In fact, many that we do—including the John Liu story—are simply the result of great shoe leather reporting.”
(You got that, conspiracy theorists? The recent John Liu campaign finance story was not a Bloomberg plant.)
Good they drew the distinction when they did. By the end of the day, the sexy blog was debunked (an eight-year-old group blog that commented on the memes of its day) and used to suggest that the possible “opponent” in question, Kirsten Gillibrand—a co-sponsor of PIPA—maybe still doesn’t know much about the Internet.