When I was a rookie reporter I interviewed a guy in the construction business who, with a wink from people in City Hall, appeared to be averting the requirements for competitive bidding of a project by breaking the bills into smaller increments. I had the invoices from City Hall to back up the story.
But I couldn't get the guy to admit he had done something wrong.
He offered me a drink (which I declined), he tried to tell stories about his business, he did everything except admit to what the evidence showed. I not only didn't get the story, but I missed a family dinner (one of many over the years, it would turn out).
I returned to the newsroom beaten, in tears.
My city editor at the time tried not to laugh. The editor's point was, the guy's refusal to answer WAS his answer. It wasn't the answer I wanted. But it was an answer. And that's what I had to write. The reader would then make of it what they would.
That lesson came to mind the other day when I watched the videos of the confrontation between the NY Post's Fred Dicker and GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. In my opinion, their behavior was inappropriate as journalists AND to someone who would like to be the top executive of New York state.
My experience in following Dicker is that he's an aggressive, solid investigative reporter who doesn't play favorites. He's broken stories over the years in the Post that I wish we'd had at The Saratogian, his alma mater from before my time here.
He was absolutely right to demand that Paladino provide proof to back up his assertion that Andrew Cuomo had cheated on his wife. Too many journalists seem too timid, inept, part of the herd or co-opted to ask a basic, important follow-up to make a politician accountable for their claims.
So the question should have been asked: Where's your proof?
And Paladino's answer, that he would reveal his proof at the appropriate time -- well, that's his answer. It was a lame answer. And, in fact, he later backed off the accusation. But for that moment, that was his answer.
A finger in his face was not necessary. If it served any purpose, it showed how Paladino responds to aggressive questioning. Kinda scary.