The Fake-News Cycle

On Tuesday morning, the wood of the New York Post howled: “I Did Not Have Sex With That Woman.” There’s a little cutout of David Paterson’s head in the corner of the page. “The Angry Gov,” the subhead reads, “denies raunchy rumors.” It said that he would not resign.

But what woman? What raunchy rumors? Why would he have to resign? Who knows!

The Post does not know, but alludes to a not-yet-but-perhaps-soon-to-be-published story by The Times that will reveal all. (As of late Tuesday, no story had surfaced.)

The only real fact that is known, for now, is that The Times is working on a story on David Paterson. It may, in fact, contain scandalous stuff. But until they publish it, there is nothing to report except fake news about the story.

As fake news goes viral, it becomes impossible to ignore. We saw this during the 2008 campaign cycle routinely. When it was said that Hillary Clinton hadn’t tipped a waitress in Iowa, everyone followed up on it—up to the point when it emerged that her campaign staff had, in fact, tipped the waitress $100. But fake news doesn’t have to be wrong, just early. When Hillary was up for the position of secretary of state, we heard accounts of how Obama had offered her the job; how he hadn’t offered her the job; how she was going to be secretary; how she wasn’t going to be secretary; how she was asked but was undecided; and how, ultimately, she was offered and accepted the position.

News outfits have followed the Paterson fake news—culminating Tuesday with two full-front stories, from the Post and the News—with strong placement, shouting headlines.

Many media outfits seemed compelled to follow it, but what precisely are they following up on?

Everything that has been written in recent days—including what’s in the Times story, when it would publish, how the governor would resign, how the governor would not resign, how there’s a lady from Buffalo, how there might be drugs, how there might be something involving an aide—is all part of the fake-news echo chamber.

But we appear to have entered a moment where even the process of journalism—getting a story—is news in and of itself. It all began with a Page Six item last week and a lot of chatter in Albany, which led to an offhand comment in a Daily News blog post (which was followed up by an offhand tweet from yours truly—where is that untweet button?).

The wheels were in motion, and by Monday, Mr. Paterson had to address the speculation, and an AP story reported that he “would address most allegations only broadly but denied all sexual relationships and drug use that are among the accusations.”

Perhaps that’s because, as of this moment, there are no specific allegations (even if the press continues to float rumors, as the Post’s Fred Dicker did on Tuesday).

On Tuesday afternoon, CNN announced that Mr. Paterson would sit down to talk to CNN about … what? We’re not quite sure.

Above, you’ll see find a chart at how the news cycle’s latest inanity came to pass. Here are other highlights:


Jan 30: Page Six reports that Paterson was involved in an “alleged encounter 10 weeks ago” with a woman in a utility closet at the governor’s mansion in Albany.

Feb. 5: The Daily News’ Liz Benjamin writes that there is a “possibility that a major newspaper is about to drop a bombshell story about his personal life that will be far worse than his acknowledged extramarital affair with a former state employee.”

Feb 5: The Observer’s John Koblin tweets “anyone hearing about NYT bombshell on Paterson? Heard big, damanging story comin. been working for weeks, but still not
published yet.”

Feb. 5: writes, “‘Bombshell’ David Paterson ‘News’ Forthcoming”

Feb. 5: Gawker writes, “New York Times Sitting on Paterson Swinging Bombshell?” adding, “For what it’s worth, there is a rumor that the governor and his wife are swingers.”

Feb. 5: New York magazine’s blog notes that or two weeks, Albany “has been buzzing that the New York Times was preparing a blockbuster scandal exposé about Governor Paterson, one that could seriously affect his chances for reelection.”

Feb. 5: The Albany Times Union, citing “sources who have actually been interviewed for the Times’ story,” says the central narrative is the “role played by members of Paterson’s inner circle in his personal and political activities.”

Feb. 5: The Huffington Post joins in, writing, “Paterson Sex Scandal in the Works? Media Abuzz About Possible ‘Bombshell Story'”

Feb. 7: Business Insider reports, “We’ve now heard from a single source familiar with the goings on at the Governor’s office that the story will likely drop on Monday, and that the governor’s resignation will follow.”

Feb. 7: Gawker publishes a denial from a Paterson spokeswoman who says, “There is absolutely zero truth to these rumors. The governor is not resigning.”

Feb. 7: The AP writes a story that leads with, “Gov. David Paterson met privately with key Democratic leaders about his re-election plans as questions swirl around the state capitol about a variety of unproven accusations”

Feb. 8: Channel 11–Channel 11!–reports on its web site that, “Looming Paterson Scandal Involves Affair With NY Woman” and said that the “source of all the salacious rumors is the estranged wife of ‘an aide extremely close to the governor.'”

Feb. 8: Politico’s Ben Smith reports that Paterson will be interviewed by the Times on Tuesday

Feb. 8: reports that in the Times story “there are likely to be new details about his marital infidelities,” but that it wouldn’t be “the bombshell the blogs have predicted.”

Feb. 8: Rick Lazio, a contender to run for Governor, says the Times has a “moral obligation to stop the drama and the psychological warfare on Governor Paterson.”

Feb. 8, Gov. Paterson speaks to the AP. He denies the original Page Six report. He also denied having any affairs, or using drugs.

Feb. 9: Paterson appears on the front pages of both the News and the Post.

Feb. 9: CNN says Paterson will sit down for an interview with Larry King on Feb. 12.

More from John Koblin:

After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday’s Website

Watch Out, Times! Murdoch Plans $15M. N.Y.C. Edition

Listening in on the Harper’s Meltdown


The Fake-News Cycle