NYT’s Rangel Work Gets Results on the Hill

But rest of the press tries not to notice

A House ethics panel’s ruling that Charlie Rangel violated congressional rules is big news all around today, as it should be. But it’s worth noting that The New York Times got this ball rolling with some pretty good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism, and disappointing that other media organizations aren’t acknowledging that in their coverage.

The hard work from the Times on the Rangel beat started a little more than two years ago.

This was July 11, 2008 by David Kocieniewski:

While aggressive evictions are reducing the number of rent-stabilized apartments in New York, Representative Charles B. Rangel is enjoying four of them, including three adjacent units on the 16th floor overlooking Upper Manhattan in a building owned by one of New York’s premier real estate developers.

Mr. Rangel, the powerful Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, uses his fourth apartment, six floors below, as a campaign office, despite state and city regulations that require rent-stabilized apartments to be used as a primary residence.

Kocieniewski followed up in early September 2008 with this:

Rangel Failed to Report $75,000 in Income

And, a few days later, with this:

Rangel Owes U.S. Back Taxes, Lawyer Says

There was plenty more, including this good piece from November 2008:

Representative Charles B. Rangel has helped raise $11 million for a City College of New York school of public service to be named in his honor. In recent months, as questions have emerged about his fund-raising, he has insisted that he has kept his efforts to attract donors scrupulously separate from his official duties in Congress.

But Congressional records and interviews show that Mr. Rangel was instrumental in preserving a lucrative tax loophole that benefited an oil-drilling company last year, while at the same time its chief executive was pledging $1 million to the project, the Charles B. Rangel School of Public Service at C.C.N.Y.

This is important, agenda-setting reporting. And in its story, the NYT understandably gives itself a hand:

The investigative panel began its work in September 2008 after The New York Times reported that Mr. Rangel accepted four rent-stabilized apartments from a developer at a price below market value, despite rules forbidding House members from taking gifts worth more than $50.

But how ‘bout some credit where credit is due from the rest of the press? Not so much.

The Washington Post puts it all in the passive voice, and fails to point out who did that original reporting:

Rangel (D-N.Y.) has been under the House ethics committee’s microscope since early 2008 after it was reported that he may have used his House position to benefit his financial interests. Two of the most serious inquiries have focused on Rangel’s failure to declare $239,000 to $831,000 in assets on his disclosure forms, and on his effort to raise money for a private center named after him at City College of New York using his congressional letterhead.

The Wall Street Journal also looks right past the NYT’s good work on the Rangel beat, and relies on “sources” to tell its story:

A person familiar with the case said the investigators found evidence of violations of ethics rules involving Mr. Rangel’s alleged use of a rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan as a campaign office. Investigators also found violations involving his use of congressional stationery in seeking support for a City College of New York center named after Mr. Rangel, this person said.

Hmm. Haven’t I read that before?

The AP and Bloomberg don’t do any better.

Somehow, the press has learned, for the most part, to dole out credit for M&A scoops large and small. But come on. The NYT did a lot of hard work on this story. Giving the paper credit isn’t just about good manners, or about making it easy for readers to understand exactly how all this got started and what’s an original bit of reporting and what isn’t—though we’re definitely in favor of all of that.

It’s about supporting other organizations when they take on difficult, and risky, projects, and the hard work of good journalism. After all, with risk should come some reward. We’re all for market-based incentives here at The Audit.

Indeed, the Times showed just how easy it can be this week, encouraging its readers to “take a look” at the Post’s impressive Top Secret America series.

Nice touch. Too bad the Times didn’t get the same treatment.

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Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at holly.yeager@gmail.com.