Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Outsourcing

Many seasoned journalists develop a sort of great white whale of a story while they are plying their trade. This is a story that seems every bit as sensational as any Pulitzer-prize winning investigative piece, but remains just a few details short of going to press.

These articles be meddlesome for a writer fraught with the fear he or she might lose a stellar scoop to the competition if too much time lapses. In some cases, this fear can ultimately push less-seasoned editors and over-anxious journalists into running a story prematurely, when there are clear gaps in the reporting.

Such was the case with poorly reported piece appearing in the Metroland last week, which all but convicted Public Works fixture Tom McTygue of federal corruption charges. Strangely, just hours after the article was posted online, it was also posted anonymously on several area blogs, including iSaratoga.

The story itself basically lacks any identifiable source, save for Mayor Valerie Keehn, an ardent political adversary who is openly supporting a Republican candidate to oust fellow democrat McTygue from office. But even her voice is noticeably muted in the story. The strongest voices in the story are anonymous ones, claiming “about a dozen” people were interviewed by the FBI, but are too worried about retribution to discuss what the investigation is about.

But most noticeably absent was a voice from McTygue himself. The reporter was unable to track down McTygue, who was apparently “unreachable” all week long “because he would be out of town for personal reasons,” the article states. This excuse might hold water if the story was breaking at a daily newspaper, but not at a feature-oriented weekly.

In most reputable news rooms, a story claiming allegations of federal misconduct of a public official require a response from the accused. At the very least, the accused or someone speaking for the accused must decline to comment. True, this can slow down the news process to a molasses in January pace, but it’s an obligation –an onerous burden of proof even –that every good reporter must bear.

The Metroland whisked right by this precept and published an article that could easily be viewed as political hatchet job unless McTygue is soon led out of City Hall in handcuffs. There’s no doubt that he has his fair share of enemies and ones that wouldn’t think twice about manipulating information for political gain, a fact that makes the article seem more like a political hatchet job than anything else.

Top on the list is Keehn, who didn’t see anything suspicious about announcing her re-election bid on the same day as state investigators were picking through the Public Works garage off Division Street. Scirocco, McTygue’s challenger and a candidate deeply entrenched in a party renowned for its twisted campaign tactics, would be a close second on such a list.

And don’t forget Pat Design, McTygue’s feuding former deputy who is rumored to be Scirocco’s choice for right-hand man, if he’s elected to the council. Strangely, Design wasn’t interviewed for the story, unless he just happens to be one of the reporter’s sources; a possibility that sounds all too possible.

Another damning fact is that none of the area dailies –not even the oft presumptuous Saratogian –are jumping on the grenade unleashed by the Metroland. Often times, the mention of “federal investigation” and “public official” in the same sentence will spur some sort of response; at the very least an entry on one of the Times Union’s stable of blogs. But all of these newspapers remained silent on the issue, even during a late summer week where there’s scarcely little news to report.

True investigative pieces can be very revealing, as the Times Union has proven with their work following the FBI probe into Joe Bruno’s practices. Yet these stories take time and effort to hash through. In contrast, the Metroland piece fails to convey any pertinent information other than there may be a serious investigation hovering over McTygue and nobody has any idea what it’s about.

For a paper like the progressive-leaning Metroland, rushing to press with such an article seems to smack of bias. After all, the Spa City politician most often associated with the progressive movement is Keehn, the one who plans to benefit the most if McTygue is sent to the political graveyard.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I would call it a duck. The Mayor has spent the first 15 months of her office complaining how she couldn’t get anything done because of the City Charter. For diversity, she attacked Commissioner McTygue. She attacks anyone that doesn't agree with her. The Mayor’s people are only safe if they concur. Last year’s orchestrated Council theater was never worth the free price of admission. The purpose of its antics was to sell Charter change and the public not impressed, gave that effort a resounding no. Wasting the fruits of an election won, the Mayor is frantic now to win another election. But after letting all of her non-partisan and partisan supporters down, this one-timer can only hope to muckrake in hopes of diverting attention away from a squandered opportunity. Yes, shame on Metroland for trying so hard to be on the cutting edge of news and embarrassing good jounalism. Quack.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last year people were not so much opposed to charter reform as concerned that the charter initiative came up too fast - they wanted more time to consider it. The initiative did not lose by that much. People are open to changing the city government so that it's more efficient, responsive, and and representative. The Metroland article indicates the corruption that is possible in this form of government, probably opening the way to a new consideration of charter reform. But Tommy McTygue refuses to adhere to the current charter, approved by the people of the city. He doesn't care about laws. He owns race horses, illegal for a public official under the state law overseeing public officials. And he has taken over the normally state level influence perk of appointing his own cronies to the Racing and Wagering Board at the Racino. McTygue is a huge drain on city taxpayers. His days are numbered. BTW, his new deputy commish reportedly spoke to the FBI. Did he talk to Metroland? Someone inside DPW did. Reporters should talk to the deputy commish & get his story.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fowl or Foul?

Lets not shot the messenger just yet. We are all aware of MR McTygue's antics and behavior. In fact, this mayor has had an idiot strapped to her back. How can any one get anything done. Ask Mike Lenz!
McTygue and Ken Klotz were the architects in removing us from the County Tax Plan...And that has cost us millions!!!!
I have known Tom for several decades and he is gone over the edge.

He just might be the first client in the new jail!

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HO: You're always good for a laugh. Am I the only one who sees the irony in an anonymous blogger like you complaining about Metroland's reliance on anonymous sources?

If I wasn't so sure that the calendar says September, I'd think you were trying to pull off an April Fools Day joke.

If you really think Metroland has loose standards, what must you think of Fred Dicker? He has stories in the NY Post every day that rely on anonymous sources. The only requirement in a Murdoch paper is that the story has to portray a progressive Democrat in a negative light. Which reminds me, anonymous HO, did you and Fred go to the same journalism school?

Did space limitations keep you from speculating about all the other obvious candidates for Metroland's anonymous sources? Besides the Mayor, the Republican opponent, and the former Deputy DPW Commissioner, how about the hundreds of people McTygue has bullied, threatened, harassed, and intimidated over the years?

What about the developer whose project was blocked for weeks by an illegally parked DPW dump truck? (City taxpayers haven't gotten the full bill for that one yet).

What about the other developers who somehow got the message that campaign contributions or outright cash payments would make the difference between getting water and sewer hookups or getting the full McTygue treatment?

What about the DPW employees who were threatened with being fired if they refused to work on McTygue's out of town farm?

What about the residents of the Saratoga Lake area, who McTygue has cursed and insulted for years?

How about the Saratogian, whose property McTygue threatened to seize by eminent domain?

How about the women and minority group members who've suffered illegal discrimination at McTygue's hands?

How about the votes cast in Saratoga Springs by McTygue and others who obviously don't live in the city?

The real mystery about a federal investigation of McTygue is why it took so long to get underway. Maybe it had something to do with confusion about whether McTygue is a Dem or just a Republican pretending to be a Dem.

His repeated endorsements of Joe Bruno must have fooled the Bush administration for awhile. They made it clear that US Attorneys would get fired if they prosecuted Republicans but could keep their jobs if they prosecuted Dems. For the time being, it looks like they've decided it's safe to classify McTygue as a Dem.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Interesting concept. True, any “part-time” politician can be easily corrupted. But the thing you’re not taking into consideration is that politicians themselves are inherently corrupt. Find me a straight-shooting politician and I’ll find you a leprechaun; they’re both deeply rooted in fantasy. I’ve met plenty of them, straight from the grass-roots bumpkin type right on through a few now rubbing elbows on Capitol Hill. They’re all the same breed.

The vote last year to remain with the commissioner-style government can be interpreted two ways. First, residents weren’t ready for change as quick as it was being shoved down their throats. And second, voters looked across the cityscape before heading to the polls, saw a generally good product and decided ‘this ain’t so bad.’ Frankly, I think it’s a bit of both. Such a vote might have floated during the pre-convention era, but with business booming there seemed to be a bit too much at stake.

The commissioner-style of government is heavily laced with patronage, as one look at the deputies proves. But the odd part about it is that it decentralizes the power of the city government. Under the council-style of government, power is deeply centralized behind the mayor, which in the present case, would be an utter disaster. Not to mention, you haven’t seen corruption until you’ve seen a group of city councilors have a go at things.

As a quasi-libertarian progressive anarchist, I’d advise finding a form of governance that works. Most of what we have today is pluralistic dogshit that outwardly seeks to exclude the proletariat from the process; too many people wearing too many hats and none of them looking out for the poor schmuck on the street trying to get by.

Regarding McTygue, you bring some interesting thoughts. If what you say is true, then his goose will be cooked eventually, similar to a long entrenched Republican doppelganger in the state Senate. But it still doesn’t change the fact that the Metroland failed to grab a comment from the guy, even though it was likely to be no comment at all. Even those words –no comment –would have given the story an ounce of validity. But they didn’t. Hence the major difference between a reputable daily and the Metroland.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Anonymous #4 (ie. SaratogaDem)

Wow. I’m not even sure where to start off on this one. I suppose you’re “anonymous source” comment is a good jumping off point. Now, I’m going to give you a bit of advice and urge you to take it before typing another word: cut down on the caffeine, it’s skewing your logic; re-read my post. Anonymous and unnamed sources are an invaluable tool in journalism (see: All the Kings Men). The only problem comes when these sources are the only ones used in a rather deleterious article (see: Judith Miller’s articles, circa 2003).

The Metroland could have held the story, bolstered their sources and came out with a blockbuster. But they instead went with something that could easily be interpreted as a political hatchet job, which didn’t even include the obligatory “no comment” from the guy getting the hatchet. It was sloppy, piss-poor journalism, which STILL hasn’t been repeated in ANY of the daily newspapers serving this region.

Now, there’s no mystery about your dislike for McTygue, or for that matter, Ms. Mayor’s abhorrence of the man. Yet there are standards that should be upheld in the media and even you should understand that. Fellows of Dicker’s ilk work under different pretenses than most other ordinary journalists; he is charged by the Post to be a muckraker; the deeper the muck is, the more he dips his pen into it. Lest we forget the stink he raised about the mineral bathes?

As for your other points, once you mention McTygue, Bruno and the Bush Administration in the same context, you’ve gone off the deep end, friend.

12:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your notion that the charter reform would have put all the power behind the mayor is sheer propaganda. Charter reform would have given the mayor more power, but it would have been balanced by a powerful new city council whose members would represent the people, not the various departments. There would be better safeguards against corruption than under the current system.

The corruption in our city's government is headquartered in the Department of Public Works, McTygue is a cowardly, corrupt bully. As such, he could continue endlessly to try to evade the excellent journalist from Metroland. McTygue's cowardliness was demonstrated when he didn't talk to Pat Design when he resigned. I've heard that the Metroland reporter is trying to get an interview with McTygue --- I'll bet he tries to evade talking to him.

I wonder if McTygue's current girlfriend Stephanie - a DPW employee with a cushy new job - is working on his campaign website during work hours? She's definitely the one in charge of it. DPW - corruption central.

I also wonder if anyone is trying to make a deal with the FBI to squeal about what they know to get a lighter sentence?

6:31 AM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

First of all, let me address this “excellent journalist” comment you make. Excellent journalists track down sources by going above and beyond. Take for instance the aforementioned Times Union article, which includes a quite lengthy quote from Sen. Joe Bruno, who is arguably the most powerful Republican power broker in New York. They tracked him down, so you’re telling me Tom McTygue, an entrenched small city official is more elusive?

If I wanted to find McTygue, I’d try showing up at his office. If that didn’t work, I’d show up at the Public Works garage. And if that didn’t work, I’d camp out in front of his house. Hell, you can sometimes see the guy walking down Broadway, so anything less than a “no comment” from him is total bullshit journalism. The point is, the paper either wanted to get the scoop so bad they refused to wait for a comment or the reporter who wrote it won’t get off his duff to do some real leg work.

I understand the fellow in question is one of if not the only reporters there, so he must have a fairly full plate to begin with. But this is no excuse for shoddy reporting; either the story is complete or it’s not. This one was woefully incomplete and serves as fodder for McTygue’s enemies to rally behind with a whole array of suppositions, as you’ve listed here today. What is lacking, however, is any sort of documented proof that a fellow like me has access to. If you would like to change that, there are proper channels on this blog through which you may disseminate this information.

As for your supposition about the mayoral form of government being less prone to corruption, might I ask what your basis for this philosophy is? They theoretically vote on a basis of how their district constituents feel, making them the so-called voice of the people. But generally, they are lead around by the mayor, who directly confers with all the city heads. In a city like Saratoga Springs, where the mayor is part-time, this can be a disaster. In practice, it is very much so the mayor who becomes the conductor of the symphony. The common councilors become instruments in the band. And in some cases, this can be a very bad thing.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

#4 Post
You are right on the money about Tommy Boy's use of a DUMP TRUCK to block a roadway. Any chance the city will win the latest lawsuit against Cowboy Tom? NOPE! This will be yet another HUGE settlement paid by the city TAXPAYER to cover for Cowboy Tom's antics. Any idea how many lawsuits he has won in the last 8 years? You can count them on one hand with a mitten on. We should be bonding for money for legal fees for DPW. Just the former DPW employee cases amount to well over $ 250,000.00 in settlements. We will soon be able to look back and "The McTygue Years" and say what did this guy do for 30 years? water plants and plow snow?
Cowboy Tom hit the trail!

PS Take "Little Gordo The Complainer" with you!!

11:10 AM  
Blogger demroc said...

your asumption is that McTygue would call this guy back and say no comment. its my understanding that this reporter tried for weeks to get a hold of TMac, the commish ignored him. maybe he thought the way you did and figured if he never called the guy back he would never print the article. funny how one of the sources just came out as being none of the ones you mentioned

12:26 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

Look. Reporting is a tough gig, no doubt. But to work for a WEEKLY and say that a highly visible public official –one that just about any resident could find over the course of seven days –couldn’t be reached for comment is flat-out bullshit.

I’ve known reporters to stakeout the homes or work places of officials to get a comment; this is good journalism. Publishing a story about a federal investigation and not even getting a “no comment” is lazy journalism that most editors would reprimand; others would remedy this gaff by simply firing the bloke.

Besides, your point is moot. King managed to get a hold of McTygue in his second article. So riddle me this, Metroland: what was the major malfunction the first time? Was his phone not working? Was he reporting from another country? Was McTygue absent from both the August and September City Council meetings? Was this some sort of DPW conspiracy? Allow me to answer: no. It was lazy reporting and hopefully a mistake this reporter won’t make in his career again. After all, community blogs are much more forgiving than publishers.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ya he finally got ahold of him when he cornered him at the city council meeting

3:38 PM  

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