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Kelly and AP: Ray’s Pants Are On Fire

January 14, 2013

Ray Kelly was at his misleading best at the 92nd Street YMHA last week in trashing the Associated Press’ Pulitzer prize-winning series about the New York City Police Department’s widespread and pervasive spying on Muslims.

“The series of articles, almost 50 articles, was full of misstatements, half-truths,” Kelly said. “It was, I think, a terrible job. It was meant to besmirch and diminish a reputation … They hinted that somehow we were violating the law, which obviously was never proven to be the case. …”

Kelly’s words — [and no doubt his intimidating shtarker presence] — apparently so unnerved the program’s moderator Stephen J. Adler, the President and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters, that Adler failed to correct Kelly’s more egregious misrepresentations.

“These reporters were hyping their own story,” Kelly said, according to a transcript provided to NYPD Confidential. “They were tweeting, ‘How come there is no investigations?’ I don't know. You're in the press business,” Kelly said to Adler. “Do you think that's appropriate? I'm not asking you. I'm just saying ...”

Adler could have pointed out to Kelly that plenty of others have wondered the same thing. And that asking why no investigation had resulted from those stories is hardly “hyping.” Instead, Adler answered, “I never criticize my colleagues at the AP because it's just not a good thing to do.”

Actually, King of Hype is Kelly himself — especially on the subject of fighting terrorism.

Remember all those plots against New York City? [Kelly’s number is now 16, as of this writing.] Early on, Kelly took sole credit for stopping them. More recently [after this column called him on it], he credits the FBI and acknowledges the NYPD has played a supporting role.

Kelly has hyped nothing more than his Overseas Spy Service, which, Kelly told his audience at the Y, has detectives stationed in 11 countries. But then Adler pressed Kelly on whether there had “been any actual tips about potential attacks in New York that you picked up overseas in any of these offices.”

Kelly’s response: “No.”

Indeed, if Kelly has problems with the AP’s stories, he has only himself to blame. He refused to be interviewed. He also refused to allow the head of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, David Cohen, to be interviewed.

Kelly’s spokesman, Paul Browne, did speak to AP reporters Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo before their first story appeared. But he lied to them.

When asked about the Intelligence Division’s Demographics Unit, which had mapped out the spying on Muslim New Yorkers, Browne denied the unit existed, said Goldman.

Asked by Apuzzo whether the Demographics Unit had existed in the past, Browne lied again. According to Goldman, Browne said it never had.

After the AP’s first story, the AP and NYPD Confidential were sent secret Intelligence Division documents, showing that the Demographics Unit had indeed existed.

Browne then changed his story to say the unit “no longer exists.”

Not for nothing does this column refer to Browne as Mr. Truth.

In criticizing the AP, Kelly played a sleazy public relations trick, one that he and Browne regularly practice on reporters and their news outlets. First they refuse to answer reporters’ questions. Then they complain the stories are full of inaccuracies.


Kelly pulled a similar maneuver on this reporter in 2003, a year after he returned as police commissioner and began presenting himself as the lone man standing between the city and another terrorist attack.

When this column, which then appeared in Newsday, questioned the sudden and unexplained departure of retired Marine General Francis X. Libutti, Kelly’s first head of the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, Kelly went into overdrive.

First, he wrote a letter to Newsday, criticizing the column and listing all of Libutti’s military medals. Then he wrote this line: “At best, Levitt is profoundly ignorant; at worse, mendaciously vindictive.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Kelly then took a day off from fighting crime and terrorism to drive to Newsday’s headquarters on Long Island to personally complain to my editors about my reporting.

When I asked what Kelly had wanted, one of editors said, “He wants your head on a platter.” Fortunately, Newsday had neither a knife nor a platter handy.

Now let’s examine Kelly’s beef with the AP. At the 92nd Street Y last week, he focused on the department’s 1986 Handchu agreement that limited the department from investigating protected political activity.

“This [Handschu] case was being monitored by a judge in the Southern District,” said Kelly. “We petitioned that judge in 2002 to modify the Handschu agreement, and indeed that's what happened. So the Handschu agreement was changed. That enabled us to do precisely what they were accusing us of doing in some sort of inappropriate way. …

“Well, it looks to me what happened is they [the AP] wrote 15 articles and then all of a sudden they found out about Handschu because we had answered it. Then they started really kind of talking around it. But it didn't stop them. …”

Well, here for the record is what the AP wrote about Handschu in its first article in August 24, 2011.

“Since 1985, the NYPD had operated under a federal court order limiting the tactics it could use to gather intelligence. During the 1960s and 1970s, the department had used informants and undercover officers to infiltrate anti-war protest groups and other activists without any reason to suspect criminal behavior.

“To settle a lawsuit, the department agreed to follow guidelines that required “specific information” of criminal activity before police could monitor political activity.

“In September 2002, Cohen told a federal judge that those guidelines made it ‘virtually impossible’ to detect terrorist plots. The FBI was changing its rules to respond to 9/11, and Cohen argued that the NYPD must do so, too. …

“U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. agreed, saying the old guidelines “addressed different perils in a different time.” He scrapped the old rules and replaced them with more lenient ones.

“It was a turning point for the NYPD.”

Is there anything inaccurate here? Are there any misstatements or half-truths? Is there any besmirching or diminishing anyone’s reputation? Is there any hint that the NYPD had violated the law? The answer is no.

The Associated Press has never publicly responded to Kelly’s criticisms. But Kelly’s own words sum them up: At best, Kelly is profoundly ignorant; at worse, mendaciously vindictive.

Edited by Donald Forst

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Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt