It’s not exactly a secret that reporters can be deferential, even sycophantic, to valuable sources. An old editor of ours, who was Jewish, actually embraced Jesus as his savior for a little while so that he could get an interview with a subject’s mother. We’ve never done anything like that, but we, like most other people in the media, would still be pretty embarrassed if someone published some of our more … heartfelt missives. Happily, most of the e-mails we send aren’t to people whose correspondence is available under the Freedom of Information Act, unlike those that Times reporters Danny Hakim and Jeremy Peters, the Daily News’ Celeste Katz, and Newsday’s Melissa Mansfield sent to Spitzer’s communications people around the time news of his prostitution scandal broke, which Gawker has obtained in order to provide “an unvarnished peek inside the media machinery.”
The e-mails, Gawker writer John Cook says, provide evidence of the “creeping social and professional alliances that inevitably develop between PR handlers and their overworked, easily manipulated charges in the press corps.” The big takeaway? Often, the reporters were polite and considerate to the people they used as sources. They asked permission to write things, made efforts not to surprise people unpleasantly, and used a kind of flirty obsequiousness to get the best access they could. Sure, reading the hastily composed, out-of-context e-mails, they seem groveling and maybe even a little sloppy. But in the end, all of their stories were accurate, and they certainly weren’t puff pieces.The Times’ coziness in particular clearly paid off: The access they were granted gave them the best scoops — and eventually the Pulitzer.
Gawker wags their fingers at such methods, however, scolding that:
Sometimes good reporting — especially of the government watchdog variety — requires an inhuman suspension of compassion.