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Comments Welcome

August 19, 2014

Welcome to a strange, strange cyber world. It’s the comments section of online newspapers.

Beware of reading these sections too often. You risk snark addiction.

Case in point: The Albany Times Union. There’s a group of people, each with a clever moniker, who have a running dialogue. They take turns taking shots at each other, frequently referencing each other’s previous comments about other articles. It’s like a dysfunctional family in which members haven’t forgotten sleights from childhood.

Another case in point: The New York Times. A different dynamic here. The preponderance of comments are in lavish praise of bylined reporters and the paper itself. These folks appear to be thanking the Times for telling them what to believe.

Contrarians, we read the comments sections in search of other contrarians.

This was our mindset as we read the comments section for today’s profile of PB in the Times.

At the time we read it, there were 68 comments, 65 of which were lame with three being remarkable.

One person was a former assistant US attorney who served for decades in the Southern District. This person said that praising the US Attorney for the work of the office is like praising the mascot of a sports team when the team wins. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. Cases are indeed made at the line level. That’s true in any legal office. And giving the head of the office all the credit simply isn’t right. (It also says something if the head of the office allows such a perception to stand.)

Another commenter suggested that the Times’ review of PB’s case record was superficial and uncritical. This person said that PB had done nothing in major areas of corruption that occurred right in front of him. This is a criticism we’ve heard before — pointedly from some consumer lawyers who say that his inaction in these specific areas may have something to do with the preferences of his former boss, Sen. Schumer. They say that PB was AWOL during the mortgage fraud crisis.

We don’t know whether this specific allegation against PB has merit, but we know that it is widespread enough in legal circles for the Times to have at least heard of it. The fact that it wasn’t mentioned in any way in this article is a little strange. In this regard, a balanced piece on PB would have included a line that said: “Some people have raised questions about his office’s relative lack of prosecutions for mortgage fraud.”

Broaching this matter would have added at least an element of critical thinking in the article. But no such counterpoint was ever raised. In fact, the tone of the Times article is entirely affirmative – nauseatingly so, right down to references to PB’s self-deprecating humor and his ability to laugh off the claim from some Indian Americans that he’s an Uncle Tom.

Not to be snarky about it, but in our experience, self-deprecating humor in obviously ambitious public figures is oxymoronic and an act. The same is true with protestations that race and color mean absolutely nothing.  In this regard, the authors of this article could have just as easily noted that everyone who knows PB thinks he aspires to be the first Indian-American on the Supreme Court. But again, nothing about this profile was challenging in any way.

Thankfully, there was one commenter who actually said as much. This individual cited a litany of people whom the paper had previously profiled in laudatory ways only to have the individuals later be revealed as not worthy of such praise. The commenter said: “How many times does that have to happen for the Times to practice some restraint in its hero worship?”

Yes, we should know instinctively now, shouldn’t we? People in public life are human beings with faults – and one of the faults that all public figures possess is loving positive media coverage and starting to believe their own headlines.

With a series of stories, the Times has established a quite narrative here. PB is this courageous prosecutor stepping into the cesspool of Albany to clean it up once and for all.

PB won’t see it, but the newspaper isn’t doing him any favors. There’s simply no way he can live up to that billing. It’s like “Day One Everything Changes.”

The best PB can do – and despite the contrarian tone of this and other recent posts, we do wish him well — is to make a handful of solid B-level cases and by so doing encourage all lawmakers and others in Albany to be more scrupulous in their dealings.

Competence and good judgment in bringing cases – not heroic deeds — should be enough.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 19, 2014 1:37 PM

    Welcome back. Nice column. The Time’s puff piece on PB, and the bounty of “lame” comments simply reflect the human yearning for a hero — or a man on horseback — to save us from bad things beyond the powers of our normal institutions. The public gets that Albany is not working for the greater good — beyond that, it’s not so simple. Unfortunately, the biggest crimes being committed are legal.

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