Editorial Asserts Reporting Flawed, But Still Reflective of Big Picture of Woes Confronting Ground Zero First Responders
It's the journalistic equivalent of a hard-on. You own the story. It's your clips that TV reporters drag around when they write their own scripts for their live shots; the ones your competition is forced to match, or simply crib from.
Such was the tragic story of Cesar Borja, the New York cop who died of lung disease as a result of all the dust, asbestos and other crap that lingered in the air after the World Trade Center collapsed.
Borja's death caught the attention of many a politician, including Hillary Clinton and President Bush, who was lobbied by Borja's son Cesar Jr. to provide more federal dollars to help sickened first responders.
Borja's plight was first brought to light in January by the Daily News, who portrayed him as a tireless first responder who worked extended shifts on the pile after the towers collapsed.
It was a great story. Only problem, as The New York Times told us Monday in a 2,800-plus-word dispatch, it didn't quite hold up under closer scrutiny.
Borja was at Ground Zero, but not until December. Which means he didn't rush from a tow pound, where he spent most of his police career, straight to the pile, as the Daily News reported.
End result: A steady diet of crow on offer in the Daily News city room. And the paper, to its credit, owned up to as much in an editorial unusually placed on page 6 today:
We first stated that when the Trade Center collapsed, Borja "rushed to Ground Zero and started working long days there - even volunteering to work extra shifts." The article also asserted that Borja "volunteered to work months of 16-hour shifts in the rubble." Neither statement has been supported by documentary evidence.
The paper had first tried to spin its way out of being caught up in its own mess yesterday with a piece headlined "My dad will always be a hero to me!"
In the article, Borja's son, Cesar Jr. accused the Times of attacking his father's honor, even though the Times had quoted him as saying “I don’t believe my father to be any less heroic than I previously thought, any less valiant than the other papers previously misreported on.”
Today, it put aside its mea culpas, and for good reason.
The only consolation for the News is that the paper that scooped it was not the New York Post. Fear not, the Posties are reveling in what happened. The Murdoch gang used an editorial yesterday titled "Death of a Myth" to slam the News for hyping the Borja story without firm evidence his death was caused by Ground Zero exposure.
[Borja] had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for years before quitting in the late '90s. And his regular NYPD assignment was at an auto tow pound, where surely he inhaled engine exhaust on each shift.
But the fable fabricated by the Daily News has energized a cash-driven crusade to authenticate a "Ground Zero Syndrome" - requiring billions in taxpayer outlays to palliate.
And to dig the knife in a little sharper, it called the Times story, by Sewell Chan and Al Baker, "genuine public-service reporting."
Which is one thing everybody should be able to agree on.