The New York Times was ripped this week after floating a “conspiracy theory” that the suspect in the attack on Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., was quickly released as some sort of political “ploy” in a piece that has a rival newspaper questioning the Gray Lady’s motives.
David Jakubonis, 43 of Fairport, New York, was charged with attempted assault in the second degree on the state level but quickly released on his own recognizance – just as Zeldin had predicted. Jakubonis was later arrested on a federal assault charge.
The Times published a conspiratorial piece on Tuesday headlined, “How Did a Man Accused of Attacking Lee Zeldin Go Free Without Bail?” The article featured a subhead declaring, “The decision to release the suspect was seen by some Democrats as a ploy to fuel Mr. Zeldin’s anti-crime campaign as he runs for governor of New York.”
Times criminal justice reporter Jonah E. Bromwich and investigative reporter Jay Root co-wrote the piece that pointed out how “Jakubonis’s release without bail exemplified the issues with the bail law” that the tough-on-crime Republican candidate for governor of New York has spoken out against.
“Almost immediately, the involvement of Mr. Zeldin’s political allies prompted questions about the incident. Many Democrats seized on the relationship between the candidate and the Monroe County district attorney, Sandra Doorley, who as recently as this week was listed on Mr. Zeldin’s website as a campaign co-chair. They noted that the sheriff who filed the charge against Mr. Jakubonis, Todd K. Baxter of Monroe County, was also a vocal opponent of the bail law,” the Times reporters wrote. “And finally, they wondered why Mr. Jakubonis had been charged with second-degree attempted assault, a charge that is not bail-eligible, virtually guaranteeing that he would be released as Mr. Zeldin had predicted.”
The reporters then quoted a pair of New York Democrats – State Assemblyman Demond Meeks and judiciary committee chair Charles D. Lavine – who suspect foul play, with one going so far as claiming it was “definitely a political ploy” by Zeldin’s team.
The Times reporters then admitted there was no evidence to support the theory buried in the story’s eighth paragraph.
“No evidence has emerged to indicate that the charge was chosen to ensure Mr. Jakubonis’s release, serving to amplify Mr. Zeldin’s campaign message. Several criminal lawyers from Monroe County say the charge was fitting given the particulars of the attack on July 21,” they wrote.
It started last week when Zeldin was giving a speech at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and Jakubonis confronted him on stage holding a black hardened plastic keychain with two sharp points designed for self-defense. Zeldin was able to fend off the alleged would-be-attacker before he was tackled by security.
GOP strategist Andrew Clark scolded the Times on Twitter.
“This is a bizarre hit piece. A NY Democrat wonders without evidence if Zeldin’s attacker was released w/o bail as a ‘ploy’ to help Zeldin,” Clark wrote. “Turns out there is no evidence, everyone agrees it’s standard procedure, but it can’t be DISPROVEN so it’s a story.”
The New York Post editorial board ripped the Times with a column headlined, “The Times’ ludicrous suggestion that Zeldin’s attacker was freed to help his campaign,” that bashes the rival paper.
“Leave it to The New York Times to spread a conspiracy theory that the release of Lee Zeldin’s attacker on no bail was a ‘ploy’ to boost the candidate’s ‘anti-crime’ message, even resorting to a Trumpian some-people-are-saying frame to push it since the paper’s own reporters found nothing to back it up,” the Post’s editorial board wrote before mocking the Gray Lady’s claim that the decision was seen by “some Democrats” as a ploy when only two Democrats were cited.
“The Gray Lady further claimed ‘many’ Dems ‘seized’ on Zeldin’s ties to Doorley, whom his website had listed on as a campaign co-chair, and on the fact that the sheriff who filed the charge was a ‘vocal opponent’ of New York’s bail law — yet it provided no names of these ‘many’ Democrats, beyond Meeks’ and Lavine’s,” the editorial board continued.
The Post noted that readers “have to read down, well past all the ludicrous suggestions of a plot to bolster Zeldin’s message, to see the paragraphs debunking the idea” and said the article feels like it was suggested by the paper’s far-left decision makers.
“This reeks of some Times editor(s) ordering up a hit — and insisting on running a story to push the charge even after the reporters failed to gin up anything more than idle speculation. It’s pure clickbait for the paper’s lefty readership,” the Post’s editorial board wrote. “Rather than question the motives of those who filed charges against Zeldin’s attacker, readers should question the motives of the Times.”
Fox News’ Maria Paronich contributed to this report.