We will admit, we're just as guilty as the rest of the New York press (except, notably, the Times itself) in overcovering this much-hyped coming story about David Paterson in the New York Times. At this point, there is no possible way it could live up to expectations, and for that reason we've argued that all this buzz — which Paterson himself has taken steps to combat already — is probably a net positive for the governor in terms of the expectations game. Except that it has given certain other outlets what they feel is an excuse to report rumors that they have no direct evidence supporting, just because there's a maelstrom of gossip and hearsay flying around the capital at the moment.
Among the first on the scene, Elizabeth Benjamin at the Daily News was careful to report no more than what she knew, that "a major newspaper is about to drop a bombshell story about his personal life that will be far worse than his acknowledged extramarital affair." No real specifics there, but Gawker's Alex Pareene was out of the gates shortly after by tacking on a story he'd heard (which he admits he only knew as a rumor) about New York's First Couple being active swingers. Both the Daily News and Post have generally listed off "drug use" and "extramarital affairs" as potential contents of the Times story, citing "rumors" as sources. And today the Post printed a very specific piece of hearsay, which writers acknowledge is "unsubstantiated," twice on the same page of the paper: that "Paterson was late arriving at the scene of last February's tragic air crash outside Buffalo because he was supposedly preoccupied with a local lady friend."
Both stories that include this anecdote are bylined by Post columnist and talk-radio host Fred Dicker, who may have actually been the first to report the buzz about the Times piece on his daily show. Dicker also took the opportunity to float this: "Have you heard about the governor regularly 'double dating' with a beautiful younger woman other than his wife?" And this: "Or maybe the one about the wild sex and drug parties at the Executive Mansion?" Well, Fred, we've heard them now.
There is a difference between these above-mentioned rumors and reported stories like "Page Six"'s initial item over the weekend about a state trooper spotting Paterson canoodling in a closet with a lady who was not his wife. That story was denied by the governor's office, but it was double-sourced and had compelling quoted details. The subsequent rumors, though, are acknowledged to just be scuttlebutt — though Paterson made some of them (regarding general drug use and infidelity) seeming fair game by taking steps to publicly deny them. Gawker, a self-proclaimed gossip blog, has long been open about its policy to publish rumors when it hears them, and to correct them as the story changes. But it seems a step out of the normal lines of reporting even for the scandal-giddy Post to just publish unfounded rumors for the wicked fun of it.
We've reached out to Dicker for comment on the distinction here. While we wait for response, we promise, we won't write about this damn nonexistent Times report again until it actually gets published. That is, unless someone publishes another really juicy unsubstantiated rumor, which we may then simultaneously tutt-tutt about while reprinting it for your edification.