How did journalists get scooped on a District Attorney’s porn star past?

Por en English 11/18/12 5:19pm

 

YouTube screenshot

Last Thursday, an anonymous uploader posted a 15-minute video to YouTube outing Cortland County District Attorney Mark Suben as having been a porn star in the 1970s (although “star” is probably a generous description).

The video is conclusive and devastating, highlighting several decades’ worth of press clippings and photography proving Suben was x-rated thespian “Gus Thomas.” Whoever the uploader is could teach an investigative journalism course on backgrounding a subject.

Predictably, the New York media jumped on this story the next day: CBS-affiliate CNY Central ran a piece asking “Was the Cortland County District Attorney a 70’s porn star?

On Friday Managing Editor Michael Benny tweeted that the story was “a provocative Jim Kenyon exclusive.”

In his story, CNY reporter Kenyon says that he knew about the porn allegations in October and confronted Suben at the time. The D.A. lied about his past and referred to “Gus Thomas” as a “look alike.” But instead of investigating further and pulling the trigger, CNY got scooped.

Published accounts of Suben’s Friday press conference note that reporters whined “You lied to me, Mark” after the prosecutor admitted deceiving not only the press but also his friends, family and staff.

Good people can debate whether it’s “news” that the D.A. acted in porn 30 years ago. Benny also tweeted on Friday that a number of CNY viewers criticized Kenyon for the story. No crimes seem to have been committed.

My own stance is that Suben is an elected official and the public has the right to know his background, whether it’s his tenure as the president of a synagogue or his foray into smut. Call me a First Amendment extremist.

But even if you don’t think it’s noteworthy that the top lawman in your county starred in pornographic films as a younger man, CNY obviously considered it newsworthy enough to ask Suben about the allegations, and was more than happy to follow up on the anonymous uploader’s video after its publication.

That’s the part that is, at once, terrifying and inspirational. Traditional press can abdicate its role on a story, but that won’t protect powerful figures like Suben from embarrassment when it breaks on social media.

Suben says he won’t resign, even though his credibility is in tatters.

The local media’s credibility isn’t in much better shape.

Not after an “investigative” news outlet couldn’t  disprove such an obvious lie by the District Attorney, and then sought to take credit for a story it had, but failed to break.