Kennedy Navigates New York Politics-Media Complex

“Caroline Still Has a Shot, Sez Dave.” So read the headline on Page 7 of the New York Daily News

“Caroline Still Has a Shot, Sez Dave.”

So read the headline on Page 7 of the New York Daily News the day that Senator Hillary Clinton was being questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about why she’d make a good secretary of state.

Caroline Kennedy, apparently, might yet take her place! In the article, Governor David Paterson said he was “impressed” with Ms. Kennedy, and that he’d make a decision sometime after Mrs. Clinton’s confirmation hearing. But he didn’t go so far as to call her a “front-runner” in a decision-making process that is, well, entirely his own.

In fact, Ms. Kennedy has “still” had a shot at the job for at least a month. But during that time, the New York press corps has been greedy for news breaks about the internal process that will establish Ms. Clinton’s replacement.

The headline makes sense, though, because the process has played out in the press in a series of fits and starts, with the press grabbing for process stories and the key players in the drama keen to protect their interests in the shifting balance of power in New York politics. The cycle has been complicated by the fact that no one has been able to campaign—openly—for this position, and it has led to weeks and weeks of conflicting stories.

After Mrs. Clinton entered her own media storm when reports surfaced that Barack Obama might pick her as Madame Secretary, the New York press corps entered a maddening fury in a series of process stories over the next few weeks: Cuomo is the favorite! No, wait, Caroline is! No, wait, wait, no one likes her! Well, maybe it will be her, after all.

On Nov. 15, in a piece tucked away in the paper’s New York report, The Times opened the speculating with a Saturday piece with a playful headline, “Suppose Senator Clinton Got a Cabinet Post …”

The obvious choice, the paper decreed, was Andrew Cuomo; more improbably there was Michael Bloomberg, and finally there was already speculation about Robert Kennedy Jr., or his cousin, Caroline Kennedy.

A week later, on Nov. 22, Danny Hakim reported in The Times that Andrew Cuomo remained the most likely choice and quoted a person “close to Mr. Cuomo” saying he’s flattered but he’d probably like to stick with being attorney general since he loves getting things done as attorney general.

It’s not Mr. Hakim’s fault that the quote was regarded by many on the Manhattan political scene as proof that the Cuomo camp was the source for the story.

“Less expected choices include Caroline Kennedy,” Mr. Hakim wrote.

On Dec. 2 the Post reported that David Paterson “said he would wait until after Clinton’s confirmation to name a successor.” The contenders? Andrew Cuomo was the favorite, Carolyn Maloney of interest, and Caroline Kennedy a long shot.

Later that day, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he was out of contention, and Bill Clinton, who was floated as another long-shot rumor, stepped out of the picture.

On Dec. 5, Robert Kennedy Jr. told The Times that Caroline was considering the job and spoke to David Paterson about it, which led The Times on Dec. 6 to write: “Any interest from Ms. Kennedy could instantly overshadow others whose names have been mentioned as possible successors to Mrs. Clinton, including the state attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and several members of the New York congressional delegation.”

But you wouldn’t know that if you read the Post the same day, where acerbic state editor Fred Dicker committed only 192 words to Ms. Kennedy’s chances, quoting a source’s assertion that Mr. Paterson “likely won’t make a decision for several weeks.”

In one follow-up story, Mr. Dicker cited a source that said “because of Caroline’s limited political experience, she was ‘barely in the game’”; in another he cited a source close to the governor who said it was “no better” than a 20 to 1 shot for Ms. Kennedy.

Kennedy Navigates New York Politics-Media Complex