I have to admit I got a good laugh out of the confrontation between a NY Post reporter and Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of NY State. But it was not just great entertainment. It also offered a good look at a reporter trying to do the job right.
Fred Dicker pressed Paladino for evidence to back up his charge that Andrew Cuomo is an adulterer, just like Paladino himself, who has admitted not only an affair but that he fathered a girl who is now 10. Paladino's admission, of course, was tactical. Rather than wait for someone to out him, he tried to neutralize the situation by openly discussing it. But apparently not satisfied with the public reaction, he accused Cuomo of the same sin.
Too often, reporters respond to this type of situation with what journalists refer to as "he said, she said" stories. That is they report the allegation and then the denial, making no attempt to tell the public who is right. This is what sometimes passes as "objective" reporting, when instead it should be called "stenographic" reporting--just take down what everyone says and put it into some grammatical sentences.
Fred Dicker, on the other hand, was doing what good journalists do: demanding verification of Paladino's charge. He wasn't content to just offer an assist to the mud-slinging unless Paladino showed him the evidence.
His reward was to be called "biased" and a "stalking horse" for the Cuomo campaign. Paladino sounded like a mobster when he told Dicker, "I'll take you out." But one of Paladino's aides caught on the video trying to separate Dicker from the candidate made another threat, one that usually cows journalists into being stenographers. He told Dicker, "You're off our campaign list. You get nothing more from us."
To a reporter, that's a threat with teeth. It means no access to the candidate, no easy way to get comments or advance word about upcoming appearances or policy papers. Ready access to powerful people makes a reporter important to his or her news organization. In Washington, D.C., it makes reporters powerful, virtually guaranteeing front-page or top-of-the-broadcast position.
It also can make reporters dupes for politicians' lies, tools for efforts to sell a war or advance legislation harmful to the public. As we sadly learned about the selling of the Iraq war with a heavy assist from New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a buddy of Dick Cheney.
So it was refreshing to see veteran Albany reporter Fred Dicker get in Paladino's face and demand the evidence.
I showed the video to my Media Ethics class at Hofstra University as an example of a reporter with ethics trying to do his job. Ethical reporting starts with seeking the truth, and Fred Dicker modeled that for everyone to see.
I hope Dicker's career thrives after this episode and that he gets the credit he deserves for doing the job the way it should be done. Washington reporters could well take a lesson from him.