campaign desk

The Times asked if Paterson was caught in “compromising positions”

E-mails reveal early question about women who were “not his wife”
December 1, 2010

On January 24, 2010, Danny Hakim, a New York Times reporter who was in frequent contact with Governor David Paterson’s press office, e-mailed a string of questions about the State Police’s role in protecting the governor’s mansion.

Marissa Shorenstein, the governor’s press secretary, fielded the inquiries. She quickly responded in certain terms to Hakim’s stunning closing question:

She added:

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Hakim e-mailed back, refining his question:

The state’s Freedom of Information release does not include a response to Hakim’s reframing of the question.

Despite Hakim’s representation that it was the Times‘s “understanding” that the governor had been caught by State Police more than once in the mansion in a “compromising position” or in a “private meeting … with a woman who was not his wife” nothing reflecting this particular line of inquiry ever made it into the Times.

While Hakim declined to discuss why this particular story was never reported by his paper, he offered an e-mailed statement to CJR.

“Generally speaking, there are always lines of reporting that don’t make it into print for a variety of reasons, including reporting standards, relevance, and developing more important lines of reporting that take priority,” Hakim wrote.

The New York Post did run something similar on January 30, when its Page Six gossip column carried an allegation, relayed by Fredric Dicker, that a “state police source with access to members of the governor’s security detail” said a trooper had opened the door to a utility closet to find the governor “snuggling” with an unknown woman. Shorenstein denied the report to the Post, and was quoted by the paper as saying “There is absolutely zero truth to these rumors. There was no incident.”

The security changes at the mansion were briefly mentioned in a February 28 Times story that looked into the record of political interference exercised upon and by the State Police—a story that was largely follow up to the Times banner revelations earlier in the month that the head of the governor’s State Police security detail had contacted a woman who reported a domestic abuse complaint against David Johnson (her boyfriend and a senior Paterson aide) at Johnson’s request.

On January 28, Hakim e-mailed Shorenstein’s boss, communications director Peter Kauffmann, on another set of subjects, hinting at a broad approach.

All of these topics would play a much more prominent role in the Times future reporting on the governor than any questions of security arrangements at the governor’s mansion or troopers spotting the governor in “compromising positions.” And the state’s FOIL release doesn’t record the topics of the January 24 e-mail ever coming up again.

While in the end the paper’s reporting centered on mismanagement and the administration’s response to the domestic abuse complaint, the January 24 email raises the possibility that there’s a simple explanation for why the Albany rumor mill was focused on the potential that the Times was at work a story that would have contained revelations about the governor’s personal life.

That simple explanation would be the fact that, for however brief a period time, the Times was at work on just such a story.

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