‘Times Union’ State Editor: We Were Not Used By Spitzer

By: Joe Strupp

Was The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., used by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to spread damaging information about a political rival? A front-page New York Times story today quoting a former Spitzer aide appears to say so.

But Jay Jochnowitz, state editor of the Times Union and head of the paper’s statehouse bureau, says it’s not true — and defends the paper’s July 1, 2007 report that State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno had abused state vehicles for travel.

“We made a decision to run a story on a subject — abuse of travel — that had long been of interest to us before Eliot Spitzer was governor,” Jochnowitz said Monday.

On the portrayal of the Times Union reporting as being part of a Spitzer-guided effort to harm Bruno, Jochnowitz said: “It appears that some people have interpreted it that way, and that is unfortunate.”

The Times story today centers on the Albany County District Attorney’s investigation of Spitzer, who recently resigned after revelations that he had used high-priced prostitutes. The Times cites testimony from former Spitzer aide Darren Dopp, who reportedly told investigators that Spitzer, a Democrat, had been heavily involved in getting information to the Times Union that led to its July 1, 2007 story on Republican Bruno and his abuse of state vehicles for personal use.

“According to the people with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is not over, Mr. Dopp described a meeting he had with Mr. Spitzer just before releasing the records assembled on Mr. Bruno to a reporter from The Times Union of Albany,” the Times reported Monday.

It later stated, “Around June 25 or June 26, Mr. Dopp told prosecutors, he first met with Richard Baum, the governor?s chief of staff, who told Mr. Dopp that the governor wanted the records on Mr. Bruno released to the media. ‘Eliot wants you to release the records,’ Mr. Baum told him. Mr. Dopp, and his wife, Sandy Dopp, who also met with investigators from Mr. Soares?s office, said that after the meeting in late June in which Mr. Spitzer angrily urged the release of the records on Mr. Bruno, Mr. Spitzer repeatedly called the Dopp home in the early morning hours checking on the status of the effort to get a story published in The Times Union, when it might be printed and how Mr. Dopp believed the story would turn out.”

Interestingly, the Times Union published the Times story, which it obtained via the New York Times News Service, on its own front page Monday.

The entire story can be found at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/24/nyregion/24report.html?ei=5087&em=&en=2852b86e3dba3170&ex=1206504000&pagewanted=all

Jochnowitz said Spitzer’s apparent goal in releasing the information about travel records does not diminish the Times Union’s reporting. “This would not be the first time one individual or another’s interests happened to correspond with a newspaper article,” he said. “We were not looking to assist the governor in any agenda that he had. If our story happened to be something that one politician or another wanted to see, that is independent from our reasons for publishing it.”

He later added, “if that is what was going on behind the scenes, it was a matter between Eliot Spitzer and Daren Dopp.” Jochnowitz said he “did not fault” the Times for reporting Spitzer’s actions related to the Times Union story, but pointed out “there are two or three things they string together and give a fairly cold reality of the chronology.”

James Odato, the Times Union reporter who wrote the July 1 story, declined comment. Times Union Editor Rex Smith was unavailable for comment because he is on vacation.

Smith, in a related move, weighed in on the Spitzer situation on Saturday in a column that revealed his views about his paper not following Spitzer’s actions earlier.

“If you’re the editor of the newspaper here, you’re torn: You could choose to be embarrassed that you haven’t reported all this stuff that has been going on beneath our noses, or you could realize that you would be more embarrassed if you got dragged by the tabloids into reporting a bunch of salacious details that aren’t really any of our business,” Smith wrote. “You’re telling me state officials are having sexual relations they want to keep secret? I’m shocked. You’re telling me you want to know all about it? Get over it. Mostly it’s none of your business, any more than your sex life is the business of those officials you’re so curious about.”

Smith’s entire column can be found at:

http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=674161&category=REXSMITH&BCCode=&newsdate=3/23/2008


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