By: Joe Strupp
The New York Times was apparently one of the few news outlets in Albany that had been pursuing Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s ties to a prostitution ring that was busted last week.
When asked if Spitzer’s office had requested the paper to hold off on the story, Managing Editor Jill Abramson told E&P today, “I am not going to talk about that.”
Several Albany bureau chiefs admitted that they had no inkling that the governor was about to be connected to a prostitute before Monday’s blockbuster scoop by the Times.
“It is not something we were hearing,” said Newsday Albany bureau chief James T. Madore. “It is my sense that a lot of this emanated from the Thursday arrest. Obviously, you’d like to have it, it is a very important story, but I did not know about it until yesterday.”
Jay Gallagher, head of Gannett’s Albany bureau, also had little advance notice. “We knew about that prostitution ring, but we had not chased it hard. We had not heard anything about the governor. He seemed to be the least likely guy.”
Adds Fred Dicker, state editor of the New York Post, “within state government, there wasn’t a strong sense of this going on,” although he contends “there were rumors around that the federal investigation was touching high public office.”
After several days of reporting, the Times broke the story Monday on its Web site, a scandal that is expected to eventually oust Spitzer from office. Times reporters first heard about a possible Spitzer link on Friday, a day after the federal arrests of four people linked to the prostitution ring.
“That began an intense weekend of work that culminated in our publishing a story on our Web site yesterday afternoon,” Abramson told E&P Tuesday. “The entire metro desk has been engaged in this.”
Metro editor Joe Sexton, among the lead editors on the coverage, said the paper began pursuing a Spitzer link almost immediately after the arrests occurred. “We’ve been working for four days, from the moment the affidavit was unsealed and there were arrests on Thursday,” he said.
Abramson and Sexton declined to offer specifics about the reporting, but indicated it was as involved as any major story. “There was a ton of good reporting,” Abramson said.
With Executive Editor Bill Keller out of the country on Monday, having traveled to Paris for a visit to the International Herald Tribune, Abramson was the lead editor in New York for the Times. She said she had no hesitation about breaking the story online.
“We were pursuing the story as best we could and we were determined to publish a story when it was ready. We had adequate confirmation,” she said. “It is not only The New York Times, but our competitors, too, who have taken that position and will break stories on the Web.”
The Times Union of Albany claims it had been pursuing the story since Friday as well, according to Editor Rex Smith. He said the paper had filed a freedom of information act request Monday morning, before the Times story broke, for Spitzer’s travel records from the February dates on which he supposedly met the prostitute in Washington, D.C.
“It wasn?t until today that we were hearing some certainty to it,” Jay Jochnowitz, Times Union state editor, said late Monday. “Another day or two, I think we would have had it even if the governor had not come clean.”