Much of that day’s news cycle was spent digesting events that happened in plain sight. Obama had just been on a record five Sunday talk shows. The Emmys had aired the night before. The Dallas Cowboys had debuted their new stadium. Somewhere (everywhere?) a press conference was taking place about something. And, of course, much of the commentary had to do with new ideas or opinions rather than new facts; Obama’s criticism of cable television’s “rude and outrageous” rhetoric on the talk shows, for instance, prompted hundreds of responses that day on whether impertinence was on the rise. But the biggest news of the day was, it turns out, driven by a classic big-paper scoop: Bob Woodward had gotten his hands on General Stanley McChrystal’s confidential assessment of possible “mission failure” in Afghanistan and had written about it in the Washington Post. Politics junkies, meanwhile, were focused on a Times scoop from the weekend—that the White House was trying to push David Paterson out of the New York governor’s race.
The day was filled with slight revelations and rolling chatter in ongoing stories—the cause of Michael Jackson’s death, the disputed gender of South African runner Caster Semenya—and many of the stories we traced back relied on a wide variety of newsgathering sources. The ACORN videotape scandal was not only driven by online news and radio troublemakers, it was created by one, as the filmmaker James O’Keefe teamed up with Andrew Breitbart, a Drudge Report protégé who launched a site where the film would be hosted. In the case of the murder of Yale student Annie Le, details of the crime and its investigation were picked up by national media after local sources (including the Yale Daily News) uncovered them. The question of whether John Edwards fathered a child with Rielle Hunter had been pursued relentlessly by the National Enquirer, hardly the most Establishment title that comes to mind, but it was the exhaustive article the Times ran the day before that legitimized the story and drove the coverage on September 21. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day: It took fourteen years—and the upcoming publication of a book on the Clinton presidency—to report the fact that Boris Yeltsin had roamed Pennsylvania Avenue in his underwear looking for pizza.