Buffalo News Peddles Rumors About Chris Lee

12 Feb

Since our inception in 2004, we have received several public and private admonishments from writers and editors at The Buffalo News about the way we report and opine on the news of the day.  The undercurrent of all those critiques has been that they were “responsible” journalists who did not traffic in rumors, innuendo, or off-the-record allegations.  Implying, of course, that WNYMedia and other online outlets were irresponsible and amateurish. The tongue clicking and “tsk-tsks” which have emanated from One News Plaza over the years have entertained us.

Today, we return the favor.

In this morning’s edition, Jerry Zremski and Steve Watson wrote what is essentially a hit piece on Former Rep. Chris Lee (R, Chippenfail).  It reads like a “story” one would find on the execrable Joe Illuzzi’s website, or in a cheap tabloid.

About halfway into the article titled “Alleged womanizing by Lee has a history”, Zremski writes,

No concrete evidence has surfaced that Lee, a Republican from Amherst, has cheated on his wife, Michele, with whom he has a young son.

However, that did not stop the writers from giving us a full story of unconfirmed and unsubstantiated rumors about the man.

And funny pictures...

WNYMedia has a reputation as a left-leaning website known for taking on Republican politicians and public figures, but we simply do not publish personal rumors or blind items on this website.  If we did, dozens of local politicos (Democrat and Republican alike) would be reading the things we hear about their personal lives.

We only publish stories if someone is willing to go on the record or we have two direct sources confirming the story, not some collected hearsay curated from various media sources.  Furthermore, we’d only do so if it’s remotely newsworthy – that we’ve engaged in an analysis where we’ve balanced the likely harm that might come from publicizing the information versus the public’s right to know, and how relevant the information is to something of public – not just prurient – interest.

Not one name is mentioned. Not one concrete allegation is made, or verified.  At least the New York Post’s article got a little specific. In fact, this spoof website is a nice interpretation of Zremski’s article.

It is clear through reading Zremski’s meta-story about the various allegations other media outlets have alluded to, that neither he nor Watson have direct sources on Lee’s personal proclivities.  Rather than drumming up the story themselves with some feet-on-street reporting, this article serves as a “Help Wanted” piece soliciting locals to share their stories about Lee banging cocktail waitresses and hairdressers, which can then be reported on the record.  It rehashes off-the-record rumor and unsubstantiated hearsay from a long-ago failed candidate’s oppo research.

If we had published something about Chris Lee similar to what the Buffalo News put out on the newsstands, we’d be rightly pilloried as smut-peddling internet hacks, and the pro journos at the News would look down their collective nose at us as being further evidence of how untrustworthy those online outlets like WNYMedia.net or Gawker are.

Yet, the two biggest political scandals of the past twelve months involving local politicians – Carl Paladino’s and Chris Lee’s weird emailing proclivities – were broken by those very online outlets.

What the News did today was cheap, lazy journalism – a backhanded attempt to solicit a scoop – and Margaret Sullivan should be embarrassed that it was published by her newspaper.

19 Responses to “Buffalo News Peddles Rumors About Chris Lee”

  1. Tim February 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    Didn’t you have this exact type of story up two nights ago, but then you took it down?

    • Christopher Smith February 11, 2011 at 6:51 pm #


  2. Bruce Beyer February 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm #


  3. Bill Altreuter February 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    The story in Roll Call was fair game and should have been reported on– or at least run down.

  4. Christopher Smith February 11, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    @Bruce and others, this doesn’t mean we won’t publish a story about Lee’s personal life.  What it means is that we’ll do so once we have confirm facts and weighed the impact of publishing the information.   We’re the guys who published Paladino’s horse porn, for chrissakes.  We did so after verifying they were his emails and after confirming with three recipients that the emails were indeed from Carl.

  5. Tim February 11, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Are you saying no to me?  If so, what was the article I read the other night that was then taken down?

    • Christopher Smith February 11, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

      I am replying from the admin panel and that “no” was supposed to go in a different thread. Sorry for the confusion, the comments on the admin panel are arranged chronologically, not by article.

      As to your original point, the article that was up on Wednesday night is pretty much the same article that is up today. Unknowingly, Alan wrote a very similar article to mine, recapping the series of events and handicapping the early contenders to replace Lee. We don’t have an editorial staff that assigns and approves stories or edits the content, we write independently. Normally, I leave those types of stories to Alan, but he hadn’t started writing one when I began writing mine. By the time I wrote my 1800 word treatise on the mess, he had pumped out a much wittier and better version. So, I took mine down and reworked it after it was up for a few hours.

      In that article, I wrote the following about Lee’s quick resignation being based upon fear of further examination of his personal life. I alleged nothing, it was just an observation based on how scandals like this have been handled in the past by politicians and public figures around the country.

      The quick resignation was shocking and could be seen as a defensive measure to keep investigations and reports of a penchant for buggery from surfacing. Ostensibly, the media machine will move on and he will presumably preserve some of his reputation. All in all, a sad day for Chris’s family, but a boon to the fortunes of local political websites.

      I predicted that a feeding frenzy would ensue and linked to an image of a tweet from a WSJ reporter who talked about doing just that. I took it out of the reworked story because it was a throwaway line, I didn’t give it much thought and it distracted from the bigger picture of how the special election would be called and who the candidates for that election would be.

      Not surprisingly, numerous reports about Chris’s proclivities have surfaced in the last 48 hours, most without any confirmation, corroboration or details. They are reports about “rumors”, not even allegations. The Buffalo News attempting to curate those reports into their own 1000 word story about the rumors of rumors is below the standard of a major metropolitan daily.

      Journalism isn’t a race to the bottom, we strive to follow the same standards of reporting (when we do original reporting) while keeping it light with sarcastic images and snarky comments. However, we don’t curate rumors or blind items. And that is exactly what Jerry and Steve did today.

  6. Rebecca February 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    I couldn’t believe that article when I read it this morning. I read it online, and first I thought they had left a paragraph or two out. Then i thought I had missed something because I was super-tired. Nope. I couldn’t believe they had the gall to publish such unsubstantiated bullshit.

  7. Mike In WNY February 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    Chris, I see no substantial difference between the News article and what you posted, and subsequently removed, a couple of nights ago.

    Within thirty minutes of Rep. Chris Lee’s resignation from Congress, my phone began buzzing with texts and calls from political insiders, hacks and hangers-on with updates on the behind-the-scenes feeding frenzy in the race to replace Lee. The quick resignation was shocking, but whispers about Lee’s penchant for buggery have grown stronger in the last year and we (along with dozens of other reporters) looked into it. . .

  8. Tim February 12, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    Thank you for your explanation, Chris, but I have to agree with Mike.  While the rest of your deleted article does talk about the what’s next for the district, this is how you lead it:

    Within thirty minutes of Rep. Chris Lee’s resignation from Congress, my phone began buzzing with texts and calls from political insiders, hacks and hangers-on with updates on the behind-the-scenes feeding frenzy in the race to replace Lee.  The quick resignation was shocking, but whispers about Lee’s penchant for buggery have grown stronger in the last year and we (along with dozens of other reporters) looked into it.  For example, here’s a Tweet from last night by a Wall Street Journal reporter:

    Back story on Chris Lee is gonna be juicy.  Lots of reporters were chasing it this fall.  None of us could break it.
    There is (allegedly) way more to this story and Lee’s quick resignation seemed a defensive measure to keep other reports of (alleged) dalliances from surfacing.  Ostensibly, if he’s no longer in Congress and he can keep the allegations at bay for a few more weeks, the media machine would move on and he would presumably preserve some of his reputation.  All in all, a sad day for Chris’s family, but a boon to the fortunes of local political websites.

  9. Tim February 12, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    I think that by writing the article we are making comments on seems disingenuous and hypocritical, given what you had posted and removed the other night.  

    I think, like Rebecca, that the News article is BS.  But, you can’t write this current article after talking about rumors yourself, and make it sound like you are better than them.  

    Your attacks on the News don’t make sense to me.  I’m not a big fan of their editorial decisions, but I do like newspapers.  You sound like you want to be the new journalistic standard, and that is why I commented on Alan’s article a few months ago that you can’t be taken as a serious objective news reporter you have some offensive and vulgar teabag or whatever it was as the lead to article. 

    I heard you on Brad’s show quite awhile ago, mocking out the News by saying something like “that’s all you have to say for yourself is you have $38 in coupons inside.  What a joke.”…….Well, why not promote something that you have?  I don’t understand it, but I know there are people who only get the paper on Sunday, because of the coupons…….I personally hate them, and they go right in the garbage, but if that’s something that helps them, why not promote it?  It’s not like that was the front page headline!  

    • Alan Bedenko February 12, 2011 at 8:10 am #

      The differences between what Chris wrote and what the Buffalo News did is (at least) twofold. In Chris’ post, he wrote one throwaway line in an otherwise 1800 word post. It was, as we say in the legal business, dicta, and hardly the main focus of the article. By contrast, what the Buffalo News did was devote an entire article to rumor that it quite evidently made no serious effort to substantiate. An entire article in the only paper in town versus one beside-the-point line in a post is hardly equivalent.

      The upshot of it is that every media outlet has heard about Lee’s skirt-chasing. The New York Post (link in post) and New York Daily News both ran stories about it. The hometown paper can hardly afford to fall behind media from 400 miles away.

    • Christopher Smith February 12, 2011 at 9:37 am #

      It appears the problem is different than I thought it was. The article you guys saw was a draft, not intended for publication. The article that was published at 8AM on Thursday featured the sentence I quoted in my comment last night. What you guys are quoting is a post I had saved in draft mode, not intended to be read by our readers. In WordPress (our Content Management System) you can “Schedule” a post to be released at a certain time. The article was saved as a draft at 138AM and set to publish at 8AM. I do that because when I write late at night, I like to circle back in the morning to fix grammar and make sure I haven’t fucked it up in any way. Perhaps I screwed up the scheduling somehow, it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

      When I got up at 7 to edit the post, I edited it down to what I quoted here in the comments section last night. I did so for two reasons:

      1.) It was a bad idea to publish something that I could not confirm and I thought it would distract from the meat of the article that laid out the details of the special election and the frenzy to replace Lee

      2.) In order to find a different angle than what was going around in the early morning hours, I wanted to focus on the media reaction to Lee rather than Lee himself.

      As I said in my original comment, I eventually took even that part of the article out after reading Alan’s article that morning about 30 minutes later.

      So, my apologies if I fucked up and you guys saw something that wasn’t intended for publication. I would claim I have egg on my face, but I don’t think I do. My publication of that article was inadvertent and was ultimately unpublished. Unlike reporters at the news, I don’t have fact checkers and a team of editors to review my content before it comes up nor a web team who handles the technical publication and management of an online article. Jerry and Steve wrote an entire article about the rumors about rumors and published it after going through that maze of assignment, editing and approval.

      I know that I am typically a snarky and sarcastic writer on this website, but if I screw something up, I take it seriously and I own it. I hope that explanation and apology is adequate.

    • Christopher Smith February 12, 2011 at 10:09 am #

      Tim, I like the journalism that is found in newspapers as well. Establishment journalists serve an important function in a open society and we would be worse off without them, but that’s not the point.

      I do NOT want to be a new journalistic standard, I never have positioned our outlet as a replacement for a major metropolitan daily. We ARE part of the media now and we certainly do things differently. The news medium is an ecosystem and we are simply a new and invasive species into what was previously a closed loop system

      What we actually strive to do is meet the reporting standards of The Buffalo News (when we do original reporting), we don’t expect nor do we want The Buffalo News to lower their standards. While we post funny pictures and tell the story in a way that reaches a new and younger audience, the facts are always the same. We criticize The Buffalo News frequently for their lack of understanding about monetizing the web, their relative disinterest in using the web as anything more than a big bucket of letters to the editor, and their unwillingness to see their product as “journalism”, not “newspapers”.

      Teasing The Buffalo News about their continual efforts to increase print revenue with coupons, the return of JINGO, and other silly tools all while they are sitting on an unexplored mountain of web revenue is absolutely justified and I’ll continue to do it. I have written and commented extensively about the innumerable ways the company could find new revenue online, begin changing their business model from “print floats online” to online driving corporate revenue and ways to use their competitive monopoly in the print business to leverage a near monopoly in local online. They are facing a pretty standard business school dilemma, what do you do when your primary revenue streams shrink and new markets have lower margins? So far, their response to that business problem has been utterly disappointing.

  10. Tim February 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    I appreciate your responses, Chris.  Now I understand what happened.  Given your past bashing of the News I figured you pulled it, so that you can criticize them for doing the same thing……And, yes that part definitely distracted from the meat of the article.  It was the lead of the article – I think the first three paragraphs – and I didn’t even remember the rest, but I knew I had quoted it the next morning when I was on a message board that is global and people were asking me why my local congressman had quit so quickly.

    You’ve got a lot of interesting things to say about something of great interest to me and something that I think is very important.  How to monetize content on the web.  You’re right – the News is in the journalism business and not the newsprint business.  I pray the daily newspaper never goes away – it would be bad enough for me, I can’t even imagine what my mother would do!…….But, if they can increase web revenue, like you said, in addition to keeping the print paper going, that is how they will survive.  They seem to be making the same mistake the railroads made 100 or so years ago, in defining what their product is.

    I heard a small portion of what I think was your last show with Brad in 2010.  It was really good, as you were talking about changing the name of this place to something like 716news.com – I think that would be a great change.  But, you were talking all about monetizing content on the web, etc……..I only heard about 5-10 minutes of the show and couldn’t wait to listen to it here in it’s entirety.  It didn’t show up and I emailed Brad about it and he was so upset that there was sort of technical glitch and it seemed to be lost forever.  He said it was a great show, and i know the part of it that I heard was.

    I guess I’ll never hear that one, but I appreciate what you have said here regarding the subject. 

  11. Brian February 13, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    Lee presumed to set himself above his peers, you and me.  He wanted to run for public office in order to set the rules for the rich like himself. (The U.S. constitution constitutionalizes government by the rich, for the rich, and of the rich.)  He deserves not only ridicule, scorn, and gossip, but very probably life imprisonment or death.  He should consider himself lucky.

  12. AJ February 13, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    Hindsight is 20/20, but based on what you had- spoiled rich boy with photogenic campaign looks who votes against health care and fair pay while shouting “family values” every two minutes, friend of Porno Paladino, fave of the Teabagged-sure sounds like a closet freak to me!
    Seriously though, sounds like the other paper had a very reliable inside source and/or KNEW they had the goods on this fool-who knows how long they have been supressing stuff, based on Dads power.

    In order to make it up to your readers, I think you should now focus on the spindly fist Lee is making in an effort to increase his bicep size.
    Lee may be on drugs, because he apparently doesn’t realize that it’s not the size of the bicep gals are most interested in when looking at Craigslist trollers, and thin little hands are NOT an indicator of big things elsewhere. The pose really was NOT very masculine, so your buggery theory may still be proven. I think this man may have a future doing paid speaking engagements to the Teabagged crowd promoting marital fidelity- since abstinence teaching is working for unwed mother Bristol Palin .
    All he has to do now is announce that the Lord has forgiven him, he’s good to go, unless gay stuff comes out-then he will need 3 weeks to be “cured” by the Lord, like the televangelist was. So get cracking on the spindly hand stuff, and find out where he’s hiding out- I heard it’s Florida.

  13. peteherr February 13, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Not for nothing, but the quote from Chris’s piece is fact. He reports that . 1.) a half hour after Lee’s resignation people started contacting him with rumors. He does not go into those rumors. 2.) the chatter about Lee’s behavior has been growing stronger, again he does not go into those rumors.

    Both of those things are true. I assume that Mike is taking offense at the second part of that since he bolded it…..in English teacher terms, the chatter (or whispers, as Chris put it) is the subject of the sentence, not the actual behavior.

  14. Tim February 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    So, what’s the difference between what Chris wrote and what the News wrote, Pete?

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