New York's Source of Controversy

Here's an interesting case study for media ethicists. The New York Post's Frederic Dicker reported on all sorts of mean things that Gov. David Paterson ...
by | June 18, 2008

Here's an interesting case study for media ethicists.

The New York Post's Frederic Dicker reported on all sorts of mean things that Gov. David Paterson supposedly said about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, citing "a source with firsthand knowledge of Paterson's comments." Bloomberg and Paterson denied any feud.

Dicker then doubled down, declaring:

The Post's report was based on a source "with firsthand knowledge of Paterson's comments."

Let's see, how many people could that be?

Paterson himself? Perhaps Michelle Paterson, the governor's wife, or Charles O'Byrne, the governor's chief of staff? Another possibility is Communications Director Risa Heller. You get the point.

(Hat tip: Political Wire)

My first reaction is that Dicker's response was out of bounds. If you cite anonymous sources, generally it's assumed that the sources will offer denials publicly -- otherwise they would have spoken to you on the record in the first place.

Dicker could have stood by his story in a more professional way, without, in effect, outing possible anonymous sources. Plus, the Post isn't doing its credibility any favors by including a "BS-O-Meter" with the article.

But, once it dawned on me that stressing manners to the New York Post is a bit like giving diet tips to a pot-bellied pig, I made it around to my second reaction. Paterson should be doing everything he can to avoid a feud with Bloomberg.

Obviously, Paterson is aware of the rumors that Bloomberg will challenge him in the 2010 governor's race. His best defense wouldn't be to criticize Bloomberg, but rather to build a reputation as a successful governor.

Voters, after all, usually will pick an incumbent they like over a challenger they like. Exhibit A: Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman's victory over certified Nebraska demigod Tom Osborne in the 2006 Republican primary.

Moreover, New York voters usually will pick a Democrat they like over a (on-again, off-again) Republican that they like. Even against all of Bloomberg's millions, Paterson just needs to make sure New Yorkers like him. They'll like him a lot more if he can avoid the quarreling that defined Eliot Spitzer's tumultuous tenure.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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