The New York Times is engaging in defense of scandal-plagued Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, accused of influence peddling in his suspicious relationship with Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, who flew Menendez to the Dominican Republic on his private plane. Menendez intervened on Melgen's behalf in two Medicare disputes.
Last Sunday the paper very strangely chided a conservative group, the National Legal and Policy Center, for its part in exposing the Menendez scandal (even though the Times itself collaborated with the group, using its data to write its February 1 front-page story on the Menendez accusations). As if to make up for helping put the story (somewhat) into the mainstream press, the front of Thursday's edition featured a sympathetic profile of Menendez by reporters Raymond Hernandez and Sam Dolnick, "Amid Questions About Ethics, Battle-Tested Senator Digs In." The Times gave more space to supporters who suggest the whole thing is a smear job.
And just as in the previous story, the story's main photo includes a caption painting Menendez as the victim of a partisan smear: "Senator Menendez of New Jersey at a hearing on immigration last week. Friends say he is the victim of a smear campaign."
He has taken to little-used routes in the nation’s Capitol to avoid attention. His allies have hinted at conspiracies hatched against him, perhaps by shadowy enemies in Cuba. And he has even hired a prominent lawyer well versed in Congressional investigations.
It has been an unnerving time for Senator Robert Menendez, a usually self-assured and even brash politician who prides himself on his long, hard climb through the brutal machine-style politics of New Jersey.
Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, has been described as both shaken and angry these days as he confronts questions about his conduct that will not go away and that threaten to strip him of the power he has worked for decades to acquire.
The Times boasted of the senator's "survival skills that he honed during his rise, decades long, from working-class Union City."
Mr. Menendez was appointed to finish the term of Senator Jon S. Corzine in 2006. The same year, in his first race for the Senate, he faced an ethics investigation that angers Mr. Menendez and associates to this day.
As Election Day approached, Chris Christie, then the United States attorney in Newark, opened an inquiry into a nonprofit community agency that paid Mr. Menendez more than $300,000 in rent at the same time that he was helping the group obtain federal grants.
Republicans seized the issue, saying it raised serious questions about Mr. Menendez’s ethics. But Democrats pushed back, accusing Mr. Christie, now the state’s Republican governor, of a politically motivated inquiry.
In the end, Mr. Menendez won the race and the investigation was eventually closed with no charges filed. A longtime friend said the attacks affected Mr. Menendez deeply.
Not until paragraph 26 of 31 did the Times finally got around to some of the details of the influence-peddling accusations against Menendez, and concluded the report by letting an ally spread a conspiracy theory:
Mr. Menendez and his allies have rejected any suggestion that he was trying to repay a favor. They are moving aggressively to contain any fallout, recently hiring Stephen M. Ryan, a Washington lawyer whose specialties include dealing with the legal, political and news media repercussions of government investigations. And they say he is the victim of a smear campaign.
Representative Albio Sires, Democrat of New Jersey, a close ally who replaced Mr. Menendez in the House, even suggested that Cuban Communists had had a hand in stoking the latest troubles.
“I would not be surprised if they are behind some of this stuff, some of these allegations,” he told The Star-Ledger of Newark. “The Dominican Republic has a lot of relationships with Cuba.”