The story rocketed around New York City when streets went uncleared after the Dec. 26 blizzard: Sanitation workers, angry about job reductions, had deliberately staged a work slowdown.
It resulted in wisecracks on "Saturday Night Live," fiery denunciations of unions on cable news and four criminal investigations.
And it occurred because one man, Councilman Daniel J. Halloran, Republican of Queens, said five city workers had come to his office during the storm and told him they had been explicitly ordered to take part in a slowdown to embarrass Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
But the more that investigators look into Mr. Halloran's story, the more mystifying it becomes.
Bottom line: Halloran's story is failing to pan out. But not content with discrediting him professionally, the Times smeared the conservative, Tea Party-backed Halloran personally with tales of his "colorful first year in office" and the financial challenges he and his wife faced.
During his 2009 campaign, his faith was briefly an issue. He is an adherent of Theodism, a neo-pagan faith that draws from pre-Christian tribal religions of northern Europe, and he led a branch in the New York area.The Times is invariably sympathetic to people who lose their homes and go into bankruptcy. Thursday's front page had a story involving an Iraq veteran  who lost his home. Yet Halloran's struggle to keep his home is portrayed as part of his untrustworthy nature.
He campaigned as a conservative Republican with the support of Tea Party organizers, advocating personal responsibility and limited government. As a councilman, he has taken on the usual local causes, like pushing to keep a community pool open, but he has also pursued issues with a more personal dimension.
In 2008, Mr. Halloran sternly criticized the city's Buildings Department after it cited him for building a bathroom in the basement of his home without obtaining the required permits. Shortly after winning election, he accused the department of issuing improper citations for illegal basement conversions that had been called in by home repair companies hoping to get work fixing the violations.
Then, last month, he requested a building permit for a $60,000 project to add a second floor onto his Cape Cod-style home. On Jan. 3, the Buildings Department denied the request, saying it would make the house too big for the area's zoning.
The timing of the permit was unusual, given the recent financial difficulties faced by Mr. Halloran and his wife, Cynthia.
In January 2010, Wells Fargo began foreclosure proceedings on their home. In November, Ms. Halloran, a registered nurse, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, seeking to wipe away $116,521 in credit card debt, while retaining a 2005 Jaguar and their home.
Her debts include $14,777 owed to Home Depot, $29,000 on three Chase credit cards and $58,000 on two American Express cards. The couple has an annual salary of $166,660, according to bankruptcy records and Council salary rules.
Given the importance the Times gives toward the financial situation of the wives of subjects, one wonders how the paper managed to miss it when one of its own economics reporters, Edmund Andrews, wrote "Busted," a May 2009 book about his own personal mortgage crisis that denounced greedy banks, yet left out his wife's previous two bankruptcies ?
In that case, the Times then-Public Editor Clark Hoyt  dismissed his critics as mere "bloggers."