WXXI Local Stories
1:58 pm
Fri February 12, 2010

Rumor Expert Gives Paterson Good Grades, But Little Hope

Rochester, NY – TRANSCRIPT

JULIE PHILIPP: This is, basically, a Seinfeld story. Meaning it's a story about...nothing.

At least that's what has happened since a rumor started last week indicating the New York Times was on the verge of printing an article about New York Governor David Paterson. An article so damning, it would promptly lead to his resignation. This rumor was whispered in the halls of the state capitol. Then it showed up in a blog or two, and then ta-da it became front page, television newscast, National Public Radio material. After laying low for a couple of days, Governor Paterson came out defending himself against an article that so far, doesn't exist.

NICHOLAS DIFONZO:I give him good grades for coming out very forcefully and also for painting it as a malicious rumor, slanderous kind of news item spread by his opponents. I give him good marks for that.

PHILIPP: That's Nick DiFonzo, a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in social and organizational psychology and he specializes in the study of rumors. He says this rumor is taking hold because people find it plausible. Paterson is, after all, a politician in a state that's had more than its share of political scandal. He's already admitted to extramarital affairs. And, Nazareth College political scientist Tim Kneeland says -- let's face it, the guy doesn't have a lot of friends in high places.

TIMOTHY KNEELAND: "He's upset Shelley Silver, one of the most powerful democrats who could have given him cover on this. He pretty much stands alone in Albany."

PHILIPP: So, even if this rumor never becomes a reality, Kneeland says it's going to hurt Paterson in his bid for reelection.

KNEELAND: His political opponents are certainly gaining some ground from these rumors, to say it was maliciously spread, I'm not sure we could actually prove that. I'm not even sure if that's the case.

PHILIPP: Kneeland calls this rumor just another brick in the wall. And DiFonzo says there's really nothing Paterson himself can do to knock it back out.

DIFONZO: He needs a neutral third party source that's trusted by the general public who will come forward and say this rumor is totally ridiculous. That source, if it were the New York Times, would be the best of all.

PHILIPP: So far, the New York Times has not obliged. So who else could help the Governor out of this tough spot?

KNEELAND: It would have to be somebody I think with political capital. I mean if Andrew Cuomo came out, that would make a difference."

PHILIPP: Cuomo, who is expected to mount a gubernatorial primary challenge against Paterson, is keeping pretty quiet.