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Fred Dicker, Man of Integrity

by David King on July 6, 2011

There may be no better way to be simultaneously horrified and amused these days than to pick up one of Fred Dicker’s columns. His latest masterpiece of tragedy and comedy, “Obama to Tap Cuomo to be 2012 Running Mate: Sources,” is a study in hypocrisy, shoddy journalism and partisan reporting. Dicker’s column had even the nutjobs calling him a hack.

Roger Stone, notorious Republican fixer/swinger/campaign manager/provocateur, tweeted things like this: “ZERO Chance Obama asks Gov Andrew Cuomo to be VP as reported in the NY Post—Fred Dicker has no source—he just makes this shit up.” And this: “White House denies NY Post Cuomo VP story—Dicker exposed as BS artist.” Stone didn’t bother to point out that Dicker’s New York Post column, published by Rupert Murdoch, was subsequently rebutted by Fox News, another of Murdoch’s media playthings.

There have been a number of very thorough rebukes and debunkings of the Cuomo as VP theory in various publications, so I won’t address it here, but the act of Dicker touting Cuomo as Obama’s VP pick is just about the same as Cuomo’s press person floating the idea. I’m not saying I believe Cuomo’s press person was behind it. Only that Dicker is the Cuomo administration’s go-to journalist for interviews and information dumps, as well as for testing ideas and running cleanup when they don’t like the angle being reported by the rest of the media. Dicker was simply playing on a week’s worth of national attention Cuomo received for his successful first six months as governor—especially the passage of same-sex marriage.

That is why Dicker’s column is both devilishly clever and absurdly pathetic. Tucked under the rumor-mongering about Cuomo’s possible run was a tidy little report about how the Cuomo administration was upset with a New York Times story that said Cuomo was set to lift a ban on hydraulic fracturing in certain parts of the state.

The hubbub started when the Times sent out a news flash claiming that Cuomo would seek to allow fracking in New York. The headline was simple, but anyone who knew the issue of fracking and why there is a moratorium on it in New York knew the truth could not be simple.

The Department of Environmental Conservation had been working on a new set of rules to govern fracking, the process by which natural gas is released from the earth by pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals into shale formations. Environmentalists claim the process is far from safe and could contaminate drinking water. Drilling companies have refused to disclose exactly what chemicals they use in the process, and the federal government is planning a new review of the process’s safety. Advocates say legalizing fracking could bring needed jobs to the southern tier of the state, not to mention loads of tax revenue. Even before the Times story, the head of the Empire State Development Corp. was busy in Washington trying to lure fracking companies to the state—you know—in case it was approved.

Minutes after the news alert, the Times ran a story claiming Cuomo would seek to legalize the process in some parts of the state; Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto was quoted in the story calling it “baseless speculation and premature.”

Dicker and the Post quickly released an article noting that the DEC would soon reveal its new rules for hydrofracking and that Cuomo would make a decision on them only after a 30-day public comment period. Nick Confessore of The New York Times tweeted: “You can also read our #fracking story in the New York Post, if our Web site is buggy for some reason.”

An hour or two later the DEC released a synopsis of its study—which said the state would approve fracking outside of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds and at least 500 feet from any major aquifer. It was nearly exactly what the Times had reported, but without the details of how the DEC report would be released and analyzed.

A reader unfamiliar with the issue perhaps could have supposed the Times was simply saying Cuomo had bypassed all the rules and was waving a magic wand to make fracking legal. It could be argued that the DEC is separate from the Cuomo administration, but Cuomo did get to appoint the new head of the DEC after Gov. David Paterson (or maybe his aide) fired the former chief shortly before leaving office.

And Cuomo certainly was able to vet his appointments to the agency based on his policy stance. So differentiating the two seems moot. Yes, there will be a 30-day public comment period, but both sides have made their cases known very loudly for a few years now. The DEC and Cuomo know what to expect; it’s just a matter of how much publicity and backlash they get. The Cuomo administration appears ready to allow fracking in areas where it won’t cause major outcry.

The day after releasing its synopsis, the DEC presented the full study, distributing copies to members of the Legislative Correspondents Association (the state capital press corps) at 5 PM on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend. Earlier that day, DEC head Joseph Martens released a letter bashing the Times for its story. “To get the story so blatantly wrong by posting a misleading headline on the Times’ home page is a disservice to your readers,” he wrote.

So, while the Times alert and story were accurate, if perhaps incomplete, the DEC claims it was inaccurate and the Post says it was biased. However, the Post‘s stories—both Dicker’s piece reacting to the New York Times story and his editorial—were single-minded and only propagated Dicker’s role as mouthpiece to the Cuomo administration.

“The Cuomo administration is charging The New York Times with using its news pages to crusade against natural-gas drilling in the impoverished Southern Tier section upstate,” wrote Dicker in the same column as his Cuomo-for-VP “exclusive.” I use the term “exclusive” because it is how Dicker refers to the Times‘ piece on hydrofracking. The Post, however, has a one-sided, single-minded attitude toward hydrofracking. It is summed up in its recent editorial, “Frack, Baby, Frack.” Seriously!

So Dicker got some national attention for himself and his favorite source—Gov. Cuomo—and stuck on a “P.S. Fuck You!” to The New York Times—all under the guise of taking the Times to task for “one-sided” reporting. Should I laugh, or should I cry?