I came to the Giuliani campaign late for round two. I arrived at the end of July, 1993. I was working prior to that as Director of Corporate Communications for EMI Records. Anyone who thinks politics is a jungle should try working in the recording industry. Once again I took the job of heading up the Surrogate Speakers Bureau, as I had done in 1989 and as my brother had done for candidate Cuomo in 1982. It required good organizational skills and a cool head. Attributes my brother had in measure and I like to think I possessed.
From the day I started there was grumbling about the New York Times. While it's true that the major newspaper in any city can make or break a candidate if it wants, there is, as I have said, nothing like the New York Times. Its influence has been waning and it is not quite the oracle it once was, but it can still command an audience or create conversation like no other media outlet in this country.
The Times could create candidates or destroy them on their editorial page. Highly unusual, however, was for the Times to take a position in its news coverage. There were no Rudy lovers on the news staff or editorial board of the Times. To the contrary, most were Giuliani haters. No news, of course, in any of this to the RWG campaign. As the city's first black mayor, David Dinkins could have tortured cats during his daily press avails and the Times would have found some healing message in it. We had the NY Post on our side, which was some consolation, and we knew we could never get the Times' endorsement, but it became increasingly clear that the feelings of the editorial page were spilling over with ever increasing fervor onto the news pages. And that for us was dangerous. The Times not endorsing you, fine. It would help and be a game changer if they did, but nothing was predicated on it. The Times actively trying to fuck you on the front page, however, that was something that would kill your campaign.
I am usually slow to come to the charge of "the liberal media." There was a liberal media bias in news coverage prior to the advent of conservative talk radio. Yea, I believe that. But nothing that affected seriously one's understanding of events. For every few Eric Sevareid we had a Howard K. Smith. And that was fine. We were always outnumbered but it was never about parity it was about the quality of the ideas. And on that front we were always ahead.
But again, it's different when it's the NY Times. You can't have the Times knifing you day in and day out. Only Richard Nixon could withstand something like that. So it was, that it became increasingly clear that Summer and Fall that the Times' reporter covering the Giuliani campaign really had it out for us. It wasn't just that Catherine S. Manegold wanted Rudy to lose, she very much wanted Dinkins to win. And every day it was becoming clearer that her coverage of our campaign was less news and more opinion. Again, fine, give her an analysis slot like Sam Roberts had, but not the daily beat reporter of our campaign. That's just death to a candidate. As a candidate or press secretary you want to have as good a relationship with the press as possible. It's popular now to think Rudy always had a bad press relationship. Not true. Ask those reporters who covered him in 93 if they thought he and the campaign were open and accessible. You would get a very different impression from the bunker mentality that I hear existed in 2007 & 08.
So every day we would read Catherine S. Manegold and shake our heads. I had no role in any of this but her pieces got me pissed just the same for their bias. As for the people who did have a role in this - the press operation - they were increasingly unsure what to do about it. There was a faction that early on said confront Oreskes - Michael Oreskes, the City Editor and Manegold's boss. There were those who said, screw it; we just keep plugging away and responding hard to her attacks and misstatements in the paper. Those who wanted to just keep going won out for awhile. Finally, it became intolerable. A meeting was held where Peter Powers, Ray Harding, David Garth, Richard Bryers (the campaign press secretary) and maybe one or two others decided that they had no choice but to confront Oreskes.
It's an extremely uncommon thing for a campaign to ask a newspaper to remove its reporter. Yea, lots of campaigns grouse about the coverage they receive but almost none go to the next step and seek a reporter's removal. Well Oreskes was contacted and a meeting set-up.
You might think meetings like this are easy to obtain. You'd be wrong. Editors know that campaigns are always pissed about something their reporter has written and are generally loathe to have this type of meeting. It gives the appearance that they're not backing up their reporters to even consent to hear the complaints. Oreskes was very concerned that as few people know about this meeting as possible. He said that if he ended up having to take some action he did not want a lot of people to know the meeting had taken place.
That was a condition for the meeting; that the campaign treat this as a major confidence and withhold knowledge of it to as few as possible. I would never have known about this meeting were it not for Ray. The mere fact that he had consented to the meeting at all lead people in the campaign to believe that he knew there was a problem with Catherine Manegold's reporting.
I knew all these facts at the time from Ray, but I am not clear on the details now. I know Ray was at the meeting. I don't think Garth was. After that, could have been Peter, Fran Reiter, Rich Bryers or others. I just don't remember. It could have been Ray alone, I just don't remember. Ray had asked Bryers and Ken Frydman, a press aide, to compile a folder with Manegold's most egregious articles, which they did. That folder served as the basis of the meeting.
Ray told me that he made his case to Oreskes that these articles went beyond mere disagreement or interpretation of style. He pointed out example after example of bias and clear misstatement. He had them highlighted and refutations prepared as to their inaccuracy or bad faith. I saw the articles at the time that made up that file. I was not a neutral observer, but I found it a pretty compelling case. Looking at the offending articles one might be mislead by the headlines which were often straight or even friendly. But of course reporters don't ordinarily write their story's headlines so that was not dispositive of the article's content.
In any case, Oreskes said he'd think about it, talk to Manegold and get back to them. Within a week he called back to say that, yes, one or two things may not have been to the standards of the Times, but on the whole he saw no pattern of bias. We were dejected. Ray was not. He said he saw or heard something in Oreskes' answer that gave him hope. Ray explained to me that there was very little chance he would just pull her after we complained even if Oreskes had completely agreed with us. He said let's wait and see what happens. Ray further thought he had made a very convincing case and he wasn't buying that Oreskes saw no merit in it.
Sure enough other City Room reporters started covering Rudy and Catherine Manegold started doing more analysis and wrap-up pieces. Ray had been right. Oreskes did see merit in the case that had been presented. He, being the face of the Times, couldn't just capitulate. It had to be gradual. Finally we started to get a fair shake in how the campaign was portrayed on a daily basis. The Times of course endorsed Dinkins. I had reason to reread that endorsement recently. It's pretty pathetic. Rudy is dangerous and unstable. Dinkins is inept but a healer. There was a tiny hope after Koch and Wagner endorsed Rudy that the Times might come around. But in the end, black mayor, liberal Jewish paper - not gonna happen.
As for Catherine Manegold? The Times didn't want to do anything to her during the election that would appear to validate our complaints. Immediately after the election Catherine Manegold was reassigned to the national desk. The New York Times is not stupid. They knew there wasn't much of a chance of her having any access in Rudy Giuliani's City Hall. Leaving her on the City Desk, even as a non-City Hall reporter would not have been viewed favorably by the new administration. I have no idea why they told her she was being reassigned. But from our end, we took credit for that.