Representative Charles Rangel fired off an angry letter to the Times this week regarding their report showing how he fought to keep open a tax loophole for an oil and gas drilling company that pledged $1 million to one of his pet projects. Reading the article and learning the sequence of events, it seemed pretty clear that Rangel was doing a favor for the Nabors Industries CEO, a shiny-haired man named Eugene Isenberg. By now, both the Times and Washington Post have called for Rangel to step down as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee. So Rangel, understandably, is irked. Rangel’s reps are already taking the fight back to the Times by talking to other media outlets. The letter he wrote is lengthy and full of words like “inflammatory,” “willful blindness,” “ignorance,” and “irresponsibility.” In it, he attempts to refute reporter David Kocieniewski’s points and poke holes in his reporting. But the Times, like the wily little know-it-alls they are, posted the letter online alongside a point-by-point takedown of his arguments. You really have to read it to believe it — now the paper has moved beyond implying that Rangel has done wrong and is currently calling him a liar and a fantasist.
It’s a punchy side to city reporting that you don’t always see from the Times — you’d expect it more from the Daily News or the Post. It’s part of a trend that we’ve seen at the paper that, oddly enough, seems to have started the same year the “Metro” section was collapsed into the A section. So far this year, the paper has broken some of the city’s best stories: Spitzer’s prostitution ring, Bloomberg’s third term, and all of Rangel’s myriad problems. A reporter says it’s because former “Metro” editor Joe Sexton “loves beating” the tabloids “at their own game.” He’s been re-energized by the consolidation of his section and is fighting hard to keep his team relevant and essential. “Nobody, including me, took any pleasure in merging Metro news into the A-book, or in consolidating more of our reporting power in the city,” Times executive editor Bill Keller told us in an e-mail, adding that Sexton and political deputy Carolyn Ryan (whom Sexton stole from the Boston Globe in 2007) “get enormous credit for guiding all of the coverage.” “Am I proud?” Keller asked. “Damn right I am.”