When Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy kicked off a press conference last week, he was surprised to see Rod Watson. The Buffalo News Urban Affairs Editor doles out more liberal commentary than news, so he was a bit unexpected.
Langworthy organized the presser outside Sean Ryan's office to ask why he had not condemned New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for covering up crimes against women. The young chairman later said that when he saw the columnist arrive, he hoped Watson would call out the hypocrisy of the local Assemblyman. It might just change everything.
It's a fact: Liberal hypocrisy is completely tolerated on the left until one of their own has the courage to speak out. It is true on the right, as well. So of course the GOP chairman was eager to hear Watson's take. The columnist jumped into his Lexus and left before Langworthy could gauge his interest, so the the pol had to wait to read Watson's opinion like everybody else.
Instead of asking Ryan where he stood on the Speaker's cover-up of crimes against women, Watson wrote yet another column criticizing Republicans. He knocked Langworthy in particular - for holding a cigar smoker to raise money for candidates.
Even as they are gifted the keys to the political kingdom - from a trifecta of Obama administration controversies to the Assembly's sexual-harassment cover-up to the mishandling of sensitive Erie County social services records - Republicans don't know how to get out of their own way. Puffing cigars and sipping cognac in a swanky restaurant is hardly the way to tell the little people you're looking out for them.Apparently, Watson wheeled his luxury sedan back to the newsroom and decided the optics of a fundraiser were far more newsworthy than a scandal brewing hot right now. He was also far less interested in ridding Albany of Shelly Silver than his own editorial board. The Buffalo News had called for Silver's departure in a surprising editorial on May 17th:
...not only did Silver and his leaders move to protect Lopez, they left other women at risk and purposely misled the public on the reasons for secretly picking taxpayers' pockets. It's wrong every way you look at it. ...it is not unreasonable to believe that Silver's approach to this matter describes a mindset that leads others in the Legislature to believe that their positions entitle them to commit whatever abuses their hearts desire. ...Albany needs to change and, plainly, that requires a change at the top. It may be difficult for another Assembly Speaker to reform a miserable political culture that values dishonesty, but it is clear that Silver cannot. He should step aside.
You see, I disagree with PoliticsNY.net publisher Michael Caputo who wrote recently that "Contrary to his critics, Rod Watson is not so easily dismissed as a knee-jerk pundit. He thinks about his topics, then writes - a process far too rare in the commentary class." I think Rod Watson is a poverty pimp - so accustomed to covering inequality and racism for cash, he sees it everywhere and dutifully rewrites the narrative that gets him paid. Rich v Poor. White against Black. Cigars and cognac.
In reality, he's just not that good at his job. The world is far more equal than when he first started writing about "urban affairs" and climbed the salary ladder. Now, when racism has dwindled and doesn't rate the front page as often - and he lives in whitest suburbia - he won't put the work in to write what matters more.
Watson attended the May 20th Republican press conference and listened to the party make its case that Sean Ryan had a responsibility to his constituents to declare his support for the Speaker's actions, or deny him. In fact, Watson had a remarkable opportunity to be a credible voice for the dozens of women sexually abused by Assemblyman Vito Lopez and the woman raped in Speaker Silver's office just a few years ago.
None of these women got justice. If they were hoping Watson would stand up for them after hearing Langworthy's version, they were mightily disappointed. Instead, we just got more class warfare - he pointed a crooked finger at cigars and cognacs.
Instead of tackling a tough issue, Watson took an easy cheap shot. And yet never have we read him opine at length about Jay Z and Beyonce's $105,000 champagne tower or the other endless extravagances showered on President Barack Obama.
In a week when the public discovered a Silver staffer raped by Shelly's senior aide had later received threatening letters from the Speaker's office, Watson thought it was more important to ring his old reliable class warfare bell again.
But wait. Lexus-driving Watson lives in 98 percent white Depew on a tidy dead end in a home worth more than $210,000. (That's twice the value of the average home in that area.) Who should Buffalo listen to on urban affairs - White-flight Watson or Carl Paladino, who is worth millions yet refuses to give up and leave the City of Buffalo?
Apparently the cries of the underprivileged and the crackling rot of urban decay is so deafening in suburbia that Watson missed the stories about a half dozen urban elected officials jailed in the last month for stealing enormous sums from needy minority communities - because he has yet to write about recently fingerprinted New York State Senators John Sampson, Shirley Huntley and Malcolm Smith and Assemblymen Nelson Castro and Eric Stevenson.
One senior Republican said she's convinced Watson was afraid to call out Ryan on Silver's cover-up for the same reason women's groups aren't demanding Silver resign: it's just too hard to confront such a fatal flaw in your own orthodoxy.
"Rod Watson sees a racial angle in everything, and I'm sure he's watching the Albany scandals closely," the woman said. "Most of the state officials arrested recently are African American, and all are minorities. They all misrepresented and ripped off struggling urban communities. Confronting those optics must be far more difficult for Watson to put into words than simply taking yet another swipe at Republicans."
Or maybe the symbolism and message of the Albany corruption scandals are just harder to see from the mean streets of Depew.