What Does the New York Times Have Against David Paterson?

New York’s governor, David Paterson, is an enigma , the New York Times reported over the weekend:

[A]ccording 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. Or doing something that, by his reckoning, is neither lying nor telling the truth.  

“[C]onfusion,” the Times wrote, “appears to follow him around.”

Indeed it does, at least where the Times is involved. Nothing in the accompanying litany of Paterson’s troubles and contradictions—both before and after he took over the governor’s office from the disgraced Eliot Spitzer—explains exactly why the newspaper of record devoted two reporters and 23 paragraphs to calling him a liar.

The ostensible occasion for the piece is Paterson’s muddled testimony in the inquiry into how the governor got tickets to one World Series game, a relatively penny-ante scandal that the Times has been covering intently. On that front, the Times reported:

an independent counsel asked the Albany County district attorney to determine whether Mr. Paterson intentionally lied to investigators about paying for baseball tickets, something that could lead to the governor being charged with perjury.

So the governor appears to be something like four verbs and a fairly important adverb away from being in genuine legal trouble. As career-ruining situations go, it’s not exactly as red-hot as a politician denouncing the sex trade by day and hiring prostitutes by night.

But the ticket scandal doesn’t seem to have been the real point of the story. The real point of the story is…well, the point is that the Times is writing a story like this. As with the last big Paterson investigation, which had to do with a domestic-violence case involving one of his favorite aides, the specifics are elusive. The NYTPicker blog has been hammering away on that one , pointing out the hollow space where an allegation of actual misconduct should go.

The new Patterson-is-a-liar story returns to that case, rehashes the year-old story of how aides couldn’t raise him on the phone after a plane crashed in Buffalo, and goes all the way back to 2005 to tell the story of how Paterson, as state Senate minority leader, gave two different candidates who were competing for a minor judgeship the impression he would endorse them.

“He says what he thinks people want to hear — that’s just how he operates,” said someone who has known Mr. Paterson for years. 

A politician? Sometimes tells different things to different people? How has this man not already been impeached?

This is not a news story. As with all the Times’ coverage of the accidental governor , it’s a gesture. It is implying that if the Times could only go ahead and tell what it really knows about Paterson, he would be finished.

Why can’t the Times say why it’s out for the governor’s scalp? By now, the accumulated pseudo-scandals aren’t undermining Paterson’s credibility. They’re undermining the Times’.