JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 28, 2010
[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
The New York Times is a wonderful newspaper, but it is rarely a humorous one. Indeed, most of the funny or ridiculous things one finds in the paper are unintentionally amusing (Lisa Miller's credulous "report" on reincarnation is a good example). Some reporters (like John Burns, for example) are allowed to stretch their legs and add ironic or opinionated bits to their stories, but generally the news coverage is kept at room temperature.
Somewhere deep inside the paper, however, a decision was clearly made that it was simply impossible to write about New York's governor, David Paterson, with a straight face. The result is a delicious story today by N.R. Kleinfield and David W. Chen. The headline gives a hint of what's to come: "With Patterson, the Simple Facts Can Get Complicated." Here is the lede:
A thoroughly honest politician has pretty much always been considered an undiscovered species. But for Gov. David A. Paterson, the distinction between the truth and an untruth can get unusually murky.
Paterson is in hot water because an independent counsel has accused him of lying about whether he (Paterson) was going to pay for Yankees tickets. The piece's third paragraph is even more remarkable because it basically says that the governor of New York is dumb:
But how do you sort that out? After all, according to many people who deal with Mr. Paterson, it’s not always clear when he might be intentionally lying and when he is just saying wrong things.
Saying wrong things! Referring to an earlier scandal involving the governor, Kleinfield and Chen write:
One of the odder passages in that report recounted how Mr. Paterson ordered his staff to draft a statement from the victim who reported the abuse to say that although her breakup with the aide was “not friendly, there was nothing acrimonious about our relationship or its ending.” The woman would not go along, because she said it was false.
When investigators asked Mr. Paterson whether he considered the statement accurate or inaccurate, he replied, “I would say it was neither.”
He did not clarify what something is, if it is neither accurate nor inaccurate.
The last sentence here is perfect: dry, damning, and very amusing. Then there is this tidbit:
Before Mr. Paterson became governor, his official biography recounted that he was born and raised in Harlem. In actuality, he was born in Brooklyn, and when he was young, his family moved to South Hempstead, on Long Island.
Mr. Paterson said that he had not carefully read his biography, which was prepared by staff members who he said cannot always get everything right.
Nonetheless, confusion appears to follow him around.
The whole piece--with many more examples of "confusion"--is a must-read.