The New York Times accuses its crosstown rival, the New York Daily News, of exaggerating the story of the New York City police officer whose son attended the State of the Union address:
For days, a New York City police officer, Cesar A. Borja, who died of lung disease last month, was held up as a symbol of the medical crisis affecting the thousands of emergency personnel and construction workers who labored on the smoking remains of the fallen World Trade Center after the 9/11 attack.
The Daily News published an article describing how Officer Borja had rushed to the trade center site after the twin towers fell, breathing in clouds of toxic dust that seared his lungs, and how he had chosen not to wear protective gear because the federal government had declared the air safe. […]
It was a powerful story, one that brought the officer’s eloquent son to the State of the Union address in Washington on Jan. 23, the day of his father’s death. The son later met with President Bush, and afterward Mr. Bush, in discussing more aid for rescue workers, said he was eager to see money directed to “first responders,” those first on the scene in the days and weeks after the attacks. “If they were on that pile and if they were first responders, they need to get help,” he said.
It turns out, though, that very few of the most dramatic aspects of Officer Borja’s powerful story appear to be fully accurate. Government records and detailed interviews with Officer Borja’s family indicate that he did not rush to the disaster site, and that he did not work a formal shift there until late December 2001, after substantial parts of the site had been cleared and the fire in the remaining pile had been declared out.
The Times also reveals that the Daily News paid Officer Borja’s son to fly to the State of the Union address:
Officer Borja’s son, according to his mother, e-mailed other newspapers, as well. The Daily News responded. Throughout January, The News and other papers published numerous articles on Officer Borja’s case. The News, which has mounted a campaign of stinging editorials on behalf of those believed to have been sickened at ground zero, eventually paid for Ceasar Borja, 21, to fly to Washington and back for the State of the Union address.
The son said he had been prepared to drive, but accepted the offer. “The Daily News comped me,” Ceasar said. The Daily News spokeswoman said the paper was proud to have paid for the young man’s trip.
Sick Ground Zero workers are the new Hurricane Katrina victims. There’s no doubt that their suffering is real, but the media are too eager to capitalize on that suffering, and the result is stories that are ”too good to check.” This correction to an NYT profile of a fraudulent Katrina victim comes to mind, as does this CBS News story about Ground Zero workers (and CBS’s response).