Blind Spot

What the Times is and isn’t asking about the Spitzer case

I’ve previously raised a glass to The New York Times’s impressive reporting on Eliot Spitzer and his entanglement in a prostitution bust waged by federal law enforcement.

But one thing we haven’t seen out of the Times is any reporting on the very federal law enforcement and prosecutors who caught Spitzer. That is, we hadn’t seen it until this morning’s piece by Phillip Shenon and David Johnson.

Their article gently, but clearly, lays out some rather extraordinary facts, suggesting a very aggressive pursuit (and which, by unspoken corollary, could suggest the influence of politics). Federal John-focused prostitution investigations are exceedingly rare. The resources devoted to Spitzer’s case seem to be out of proportion with precedent. The charging document carried more salacious details about Client #9 than it does about any other client, details unrelated to the documents supposed purpose.

Others wondered about this, and far earlier too. Scott Horton of Harper’s has been questioning the Justice Department’s actions since the story broke. Echoes, even if played down, could be found last Thursday on the op-ed page of, yes, The New York Times. But it took another week for Shenon and Johnson’s article.

While the article looks at other relevant aspects of the case, there’s no evidence that Shenon and Johnson asked this question: was it unusual for Client #9, with the help of federal officials, to be so quickly identified?

That’s important, because the speed and specificity of the Times’s Spitzer-identification seems quite relevant to the question of what exactly Justice was up to here. But asking about the speed of the leak would be very tricky for any reporter, Times or other wise. It’s just a step-short of a full on leak-investigation, and a who-tipped-who-what-when-and-why journalistic circular firing squad.

And you can see why they’d want to avoid that.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.