When he ran against Tom Suozzi, my successor, in 2020, Santos was a complete unknown. I asked Suozzi if he’d found anything of note in his opposition research, but Suozzi said he hadn’t bothered to do much. “It was the middle of COVID,” he said. Santos “had only $40,000 in his campaign account, and he was a nut. We ignored him and won by 12 points.”
Santos ran again in 2022, maybe because he understood that being ignored was a strategic advantage. This time around, the DCCC prepared an initial research document that raised plenty of red flags. The committee turned that document over to the Democratic candidate, Robert Zimmerman, who says his campaign “was unrelenting in getting people’s attention.” But, according to Zimmerman, the prevailing response was along the lines of This guy isn’t going to win, so he’s not a story.
Only after Santos defied expectations did that dynamic change. And by that time, it was too late for voters to react to Santos’s long con. Here’s where media decline enters the story.
The media’s failure to dig into Santos shows the predicament that local newsrooms face in 2022. Newsday dominates the media landscape on Long Island. And its reporters do quality work—they turned out an important investigation just a few years ago that exposed racism in the local real-estate industry. But they don’t have the resources to cover everything—not even everything in their political backyard—and they appear to have written off NY-3 as low priority given the district’s Democratic tilt. So did all the other once-mighty New York–area media operations.
Some observers have also criticized Zimmerman’s campaign for not fully investing in opposition research based on the initial DCCC project. Perhaps that criticism is justified, but we shouldn’t let the Republican Party off the hook. Republicans accepted Santos’s narrative without due diligence because they prioritized extreme ideology over actual qualifications. Santos was at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, and has even claimed that he helped arrested insurrectionists with their legal fees.
The Republican Jewish Coalition said New York Congressman-elect George Santos "will not be welcome at any future RJC event" after he misrepresented his Jewish heritagehttps://t.co/zrt0quFmpf— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) December 27, 2022