Let’s start with something upon which most of us can agree: The George Santos saga of the past month has been a terrible embarrassment to the Republican Party and to the Nation. I am not sure I know where the red line is between acceptable embellishment (young Joe Biden: “top half of law school class,” “three degrees,” “the top political science student”) and unacceptable lying, but most of us will agree that Santos crossed it.
Since the New York Times broke the story about the fictitious Santos resume on December 19, almost all of the news coverage and statements by politicians have focused on how to punish Santos: Should Santos resign? Should there be an ethics investigation? A criminal indictment? Should he be expelled?
These questions are justified but, in the long-term, of little consequence. Until this past Saturday, when Michael Smerconish raised it on his weekly television program on CNN, very few have asked the most important systemic question: How did this massive fraud take place in plain view? Smerconish attributed the failure to the fact that so many local newspapers have been shuttered in the past 20 years (2500 have closed since 2005) that there is no capacity left to research and investigate these sorts of issues.
While the closing of local newspapers in hundreds of communities is a matter of legitimate concern, it does not explain why George Santos was able to get away with the truly “big lie.” In fact, one small, weekly newspaper, The North Shore Leader, raised inconsistencies in Santos’s financial disclosures in September. A more refined question to the one raised in the previous paragraph is: Where was The New York Times before December 19, almost six weeks after Election Day?
George Santos’s district includes parts of New York City (Queens) and Long Island. It sits in the largest media market in the country (maybe the world). The New York Times has six bureaus in the New York metropolitan region alone. Where were they when this large fraud on voters was taking place? Where were any of the other four major local newspapers, not to mention at least four local television news channels? A college intern could have spent a day fact-checking Santos’s resume and discovered many of his misstatements.
The Times may not be expected to cover every local school board and dog-catcher race in the region, but they should be expected to adequately cover local congressional races. In addition to the local news media, both political parties bear some responsibility for this debacle. The Republican Party should do a better job of vetting candidates in major elections, and the Democratic Party (not to mention Santos’s opponent) could have similarly hired an intern to fact-check his resume.
Suppose a George Santos issue had arisen in a congressional district somewhere in the middle of nowhere (according to Smerconish, 7 percent of U.S. counties have no local newspaper). In that case, Smerconish’s finger might well be appropriately pointed at the local newspaper shuttering as a contributing factor. But, in this case, there is no excuse that the organization that considers itself the “newspaper of record” for the Nation, let alone the city in which it publishes, would not expend the smallest amount of resources to properly cover a congressional election.
Shame on The New York Times
David F. Eisner
David F. Eisner is an operating partner of a private equity firm and was the Assistant Secretary for Management at the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 2018-2021.