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A Different Kind of Roundtable

September 18, 2014

Everyone makes mistakes. We can all have a moment when – for one reason or another – we just blip out and we fail to recognize how our actions might not look right to someone else.

It’s not the same as actually doing something wrong. Instead, it’s failing to recognize an appearance problem.

That’s what happened to Ken Lovett, Jimmy Vielkind and Susan Arbetter today. Lovett may be the best journalist at the Capitol. Vielkind will be one day. And Arbetter is a truly thoughtful, gracious and dedicated reporter.

But all three of them made a mistake by agreeing to be part of a panel discussion at the State Business Council’s annual meeting at Lake George.

Why is this wrong? It’s because the Business Council is a lobby group. Under the law, it is no different from — fill-in-the-blank — the most controversial lobby group you can think of.

In this regard, would Ken, Jimmy and Susan take part in a gas industry roundtable discussion? No, they wouldn’t do that because there’s a raging controversy now over fracking. They are covering the fracking issue and wouldn’t want their involvement with the group to be misperceived.

For some reason, they didn’t apply the same logic to the Business Council, which has a legislative agenda for which it lobbies intensely for issues such as fracking.  The Business Council also makes political endorsements. It has a PAC and contributes to political campaign.

Ken, Jimmy and Susan cover the Business Council. They report on its activities.  But they didn’t see how taking part in its annual meeting was inappropriate.

Of course, we’re not saying that their reporting on the Business Council moving forward will be biased.  But there’s at least the theoretical possibility that they might have been influenced as a result of their involvement in the event. It’s was a good discussion. It was a delightful time. The food was great. The interaction with the Business Council executives was very cordial. Maybe the next time there’s controversy involving the group, these reporters will be more inclined to call up Heather Briccetti and have an off-line conversation about it.  If so, the Business Council certainly succeeded in lobbying these reporters.

There was another level of awkwardness in this roundtable discussion. It was moderated by Joe Bruno. That Joe Bruno. No, we’re not hostile toward the man. We’re a little off-put by his claim of total vindication, but we don’t think he’s evil. In fact, we admire his grit. It’s just that, if nothing else, he was wrong to use his government staff to do private business. That came out in the trials, but it was never pursued by state officials. JCOPE regularly sanctions state workers for transgressions that are miniscule in comparison to what Bruno was doing. Who can really dispute that?

But that’s history. The awkward thing today was the nature of the repartee between Bruno and the reporters. Much of the discussion was excellent, but there were moments when this fine trio of reporters forgot themselves and opened up in ways they should not have.

There was Ken talking with an edge about being frozen out by Cuomo’s press office after writing stories the governor didn’t like.

There was Jimmy saying that everyone knows that Cuomo “bakes” the results of his commissions.

There was Susan saying that Cuomo hid from Zephyr Teachout at the Labor Day parade and really looked bad as a result.

Call us old school, and we are, but this was all way too candid. Rather than reporting the news, these reporters were making news with the fact of their appearance and with their comments. Hence this post.

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