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Could some of the Paladino e-mails been forgeries?
This, and other questions, that the Albany press refuses to ask

by Jerry Myrle Fuller
Sunday, April 18, 2010

(Note: Most of you know that I am not a reporter by trade or training, and that my area of expertise is meteorology, so if this reads like a first-person journal entry, that is part of the reason. It seems to flow a little better that way.)

By now, most of you have heard about the e-mail leak from a liberal blog known as wnymedia.net that purports, in big letters, to be displaying the scandalous "racist and sexist e-mails" put forth by Buffalo developer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino. Immediately I became suspicious. The article asserted that the e-mails were real with all the authority of a Facebook chain message. So, I did some research.

Initially, this article was going to be a plain old rant about how this state seems to treat upstate politicians with a lot less respect than downstaters, pointing out the curious parallel between this and Chris Collins's alleged "lap dance" comments that were unverifiable and blown way out of proportion, killing his proposed campaign for governor. It is no coincidence that both came from Buffalo, and it is also no coincidence that it has been decades since the state of New York has had a governor from the upstate region. However, I began to notice something: while for a few days, it appeared that Paladino's campaign would indeed go down in flames, as would-be supporters ranging from Curtis Sliwa to Mark Williams disavowed him over the controversy, something funny happened: Paladino's die-hard supporters rallied around him harder than ever. Paladino has a strong cult following, with passionate and outspoken supporters-- something I really don't see outside the political class for Lazio or Levy. They began to see the outrage over the e-mails as over the top. This led to wnymedia.net trying to push its rebuttal and insist that Carl Paladino was a dirty racist unfit for the office of governor of New York.

So, I looked into wnymedia.net-- specifically Alan Bedenko, the man who portrays himself as "buffalopundit--" to see who this guy was. To put it bluntly, he's an ambulance chaser (i.e., an auto injury attorney) who joined the Democratic Party in 2003. Having sporadically read his commentary, he's always been fairly strongly liberal. This was relatively mundane information, but then I stumbled on a little item from the Niagara Falls Reporter (a local alternative tabloid in the Niagara Falls area) that had something eerily familiar. The article dates to February 2009 and stems from an unrelated e-mail feud between Sam Hoyt and Buffalo City Hall (my emphasis added):

Big catfight in Buffalo last week between amateur bloggers Alan Bedenko of Buffalo Pundit and Glenn Gramigna of New WNY Politics, precipitated by the self-important Bedenko's decision to publish what he even said was a series of fraudulent e-mails purporting to have been sent between some top aides to Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown last summer. Clearly, the e-mails were meant to slander and defame the people at Buffalo City Hall. Why Bedenko, who is an attorney in real life, chose to publish them is anyone's guess. Enter Gramigna, who openly speculated that -- since Bedenko was the only one to publish the lurid e-mails -- perhaps Bedenko in fact had been their author. Actually, the theory makes a lot of sense. The e-mails were shopped to various news outlets last summer, and my impression was that they were created in response to the publication by the Niagara Falls Reporter of another series of e-mails between the married state Rep. Sam Hoyt and a young and comely Albany intern he was carrying on with. The Hoyt camp openly accused Brown's first deputy mayor, Steve Casey, of being behind the leaking of the Hoyt e-mails -- which were genuine -- and Casey, perhaps coincidentally, figures prominently in the admittedly fraudulent e-mails published by Bedenko. Also perhaps coincidentally, Bedenko was a strong supporter of Hoyt during the last election cycle, has been a consistent critic of the Brown administration and was, after all, the only one to publish the garbage. Anyway, he phoned Gramigna "in a rage" and, being a lawyer, claimed his rival to be guilty of defamation. For his part, Gramigna is every bit the clueless lump comedians make fun of when discussing bloggers, and immediately posted a retraction. One question remains: Who did write the slanderous and potentially damaging e-mails Gramigna ascribed to Bedenko? Bedenko vehemently denies he wrote them, of course, but who knows?
Alan Bedenko has a history of questionable e-mail "leaks" that pre-dates the Paladino e-mail flap. As I understood it, reporters are supposed to check the reliability of their sources before quoting their allegations as fact-- something that did not appear to happen when these e-mails were leaked and subsequently went viral. Considering that I'm pretty sure wnymedia.net isn't on most of the Albany press members' must-read lists (their articles rarely show up on the major blogs), I'd venture to say there was also some shopping going around with the Paladino story as well.

Addendum, May 4, 2015:
Five years after I wrote this (and 3½ years after I got out of the political blogging “business,” if you will), Bedenko responded to me. Let it be on the record that he also denies forging the e-mails in the Paladino case, and for that I take him at his word. My point in writing this article was that the Albany press ran with a story, apparently without conducting due diligence on the source or its veracity. Whether or not there were hoax e-mails mixed in with the authentic ones, Bedenko did not write them.
I am not trying to claim that the entire thing is an absolute hoax. Paladino himself has acknowledged that at least some of the e-mails in question were in fact authentic. Many of them, knowing Paladino's public persona and admitted racial insensitivity, aren't even all that surprising. However, there is the question that if Paladino in fact did not author some of these alleged e-mails, why did he not come out and deny them? The best answer that I can give is that Michael Caputo didn't even try to do so. Caputo, after the e-mail controversy broke, stated repeatedly that "We're not sure about the authenticity of the emails, and we don't care. I'm not even going to comment on the emails. It's not something I care to look at." He has characterized the leak as a "liberal Democrat blog smear" and has declined to delve into the details.

Caputo is a protégé of Roger Stone, the infamous Republican strategist (Stone is, according to numerous reports, working on the Paladino campaign behind the scenes while he does official work for convicted ex-pimp Kristin Davis's Libertarian Party bid); one of "Stone's Rules" is to "admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack." Clearly, Caputo overlooked this rule. Some of the allegations probably couldn't have been denied, but he should have at least made an effort to convey to the public that they were looking into it, and not treated the accusations at face value. That is what counterattacking is all about-- tearing apart the opponent's attack and making him (or her) look bad for launching it. Don't ask me why Caputo didn't bother to do that, because it struck me as a sloppy and lazy response. Bedenko's previous e-mail flap turned up on a Google search of his name.

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