Times Forgets Sen. Dodd Is a Democrat
Two stories in the lead story box Friday, both related to the populist fury over the bonuses granted to employees of the American International Group (A.I.G.) - $165 million in bonuses granted to 463 employees, on top of the $170 billion of tax money already given to prop up the stricken insurance firm.
One story noted the 90% tax on bonuses paid to the employees. The other, "Connecticut Senator Draws Voters' Ire for Payout Role," targeted an unusual suspect for the liberal paper - prominent liberal Democrat Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. A change Dodd made to legislation meant to limit executive compensation exempted bonuses like those granted by A.I.G., and as the story shakes out,the spotlight is beginning to burn hotter onthe old-line liberal Democrat from Connecticut.
There was just one thing missing from Raymond Hernandez and Thomas Kaplan's story - Dodd's Democratic party affiliation. The Times shielded the Democrats from the Dodd controversy in its print edition.One had to infer Dodd was a Democratfrom statements like "the firestorm has encouraged Republicans." (The online version belatedly identifies Dodd as a Democrat in the fourth paragraph.)
The Times alsofailed to identify Dodd as a Democrat in a June 2008 story aboutDodd receiving asweetheart mortgage interest rate from mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. By contrast, when Republican Rep. Vito Fossella of New York was charged with drunken driving in early May 2008, the Times worked his party affiliation into the second paragraph and invariably mentioned his Republican standing in its follow-up stories.
Still, Friday's story on Dodd marked a sea change in the paper's attitude. On Thursday, the Times was completely dismissiveof the controversy, devoting only two paragraphs to Dodd's involvement and concluding ofhis legislativemachination: "But it is far from clear that the change mattered in the case of A.I.G." But the worm turned in just one day, with the Times catching up on the public fury in Friday's story:
Clarence Randolph, a 50-year-old dump truck driver from New Haven, has been out of work for two months.
He is not happy that financial firms bailed out by the government are paying bonuses to their executives. And he does not understand why one of his senators, Christopher Dodd, allowed it to happen.
"Why would he do it?" he said as he was about to enter the New Haven Free Public Library to search online for jobs. "Why are they going to take taxpayers' money - my money - and give all these people bonuses? I think that's terrible."
Across Connecticut, anger is erupting against Mr. Dodd, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, whose stature in Washington once reflected the state's beneficial ties with the financial industry. Now, he finds himself a symbol of the political establishment's coziness with tainted corporations and a target of populist wrath over their excesses.
On Thursday, the senator sought to defuse the furor over the latest revelation, holding a conference call with reporters to explain how legislation meant to limit executive compensation was changed at the last minute. That change exempted bonuses protected by contracts, like those at American International Group, a big campaign contributor to Mr. Dodd that received billions in federal bailout money.
Mr. Dodd said that his staff revised the bill at the urging of Treasury officials, who he said were concerned that the compensation limits, which he had written in the original legislation, went too far and might invite lawsuits.
While he knew the language was being rewritten, the senator said he had no idea the revision would allow for the bonuses at A.I.G.
In a reasonably harsh treatment, the Times detailed the heat Dodd is getting from the local press and the fact that Republicans have hope of a possible pickup when Dodd stands for reelection next year. But the paper misleadingly called the 1993 Family Leave Act (guaranteeing 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child or to care for a sick family member) as a "populist," not a liberal, initiative.
The backlash is a remarkable development for a senator once known for championing populist initiatives like the 1993 Family Leave Act. Elected to the Senate in 1980, Mr. Dodd is the longest-serving senator in the state's history and has won all his re-elections by sizable margins.