Why the Times didn’t expose George Santos before Election Day

The New York Times today published a remarkable exposé (free link) of a Republican congressman-elect from Long Island named George Santos. It seems that almost nothing he’s ever claimed about himself is true. For all I know, he may not even exist.

The details, though, are less important than the timing. If the article, by Grace Ashford and Michael Gold, had been published before the November election, it seems likely that Santos would have lost to his Democratic rival, Robert Zimmerman. Instead, the people of his district are almost surely stuck with him for the next two years. As I posted on Mastodon: “Not to play down the work involved, but it sure would have been nice for the NYT to publish this before the election — especially since this is the second time he’s run.”

Others soon piled on, including a few members of the conspiratorial left who asserted without evidence that the Times wanted Santos to win, so they waited until after the election. That, of course, makes zero sense.

What most likely happened is something I’ve seen during my own career: the media didn’t bother to vet Santos before the election because they believed he had no chance of winning, even though he’d run before. Now, before you get too outraged, let’s keep in mind that journalistic resources are limited, and not everything and everyone is going to receive the scrutiny that they perhaps they deserve. The political press is also dependent on opposition research as well. If Zimmerman didn’t think Santos warranted investigating then it’s difficult for the media to know that, of all the people running for office, Santos deserved a closer look. Josh Marshall put it this way:

So why didn’t Santos get more scrutiny? Basically because he was running in a fairly Democratic district and people didn’t think he had much of a shot. He ran against Rep. Tom Suozzi in 2020 and lost 56% to 44%. But Suozzi gave up his seat in what turned out to be a failed run for governor. This year Santos won 54% to 46% in what was now an open seat. These are generally Democratic districts. But they’re very different from districts in most of New York City where Republicans today have virtually no chance of winning. In New York state’s red wave, Santos won and by a significant margin.

It’s not pretty and, yes, it’s easy to say that the Times and other news outlets should have paid more attention to Santos and his apparently fake résumé before Election Day. But as the great poet Donald Rumsfeld once explained, there are known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. The possibility that Santos might win, and that his record wouldn’t hold up to the most cursory examination, was an unknown unknown. The press can’t expose this sort of thing if it doesn’t know where to look.

This episode also says something about the local news crisis. Was there no community journalism outlet for whom this race would have been a top priority? Apparently not.

6 thoughts on “Why the Times didn’t expose George Santos before Election Day

  1. Steven Gosset

    Dan: I share your assessment that the Times was not in the tank for Santos. Makes no sense.
    But I take issue with Josh Marshall’s assessment. While there have been Democratic members of Congress representing Long Island–and two are leaving at the end of the year–there is no district that is “generally Democratic” there. Nassau County, which encompasses most of the district, was for decades ruled by a Republican machine. While its heyday is long gone, the county was purple at best.
    Suozzi’s district got redrawn, as did all districts, and Republicans had an edge. Despite his desultory finish in 2020, it wasn’t as easy to write off Santos. Suozzi, if he had not foolishly ran for governor, might have prevailed but likely by a much-smaller margin than in 2020.
    Nonetheless, it’s curious that Robert Zimmerman’s camp didn’t invest in oppo research. Or that Newsday, the dominant Long Island media outlet (maybe no longer), didn’t look under the Santos’s hood. Let’s see if Santos makes it to 2024.

  2. Pingback: A Long Island weekly had the goods on Santos several weeks before Election Day – Media Nation

  3. Kate

    Hmm, Long Island is a Republican stronghold, especially in Nassau and Suffolk. Also, this is Santos’s second run in office. Zimmerman campaign workers are reporting that they told the NY Times several times that Santos’s finances were wonky but they couldn’t get anyone to care. Newsday apparently also knew and published a story, but I can’t find it.

    In any case, it seems the information was floating around but somehow the NY Times never saw it, and Newsday sometimes saw it but wouldn’t investigate it. But to say reporters thought he had no chance of winning is absolutely wrong. Between the redrawn districts and Nassau County’s voting record (very Republican), it was Zimmerman with the uphill battle. Whomever the Republicans won was probably going to win. Not sure why they chose to run a con man.

  4. Pingback: A WashPost story sheds new light on big media’s failure to expose George Santos – Media Nation

  5. Pingback: There’s nothing new about the media’s failure to expose George Santos – Media Nation

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