Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Stretching the truth"--why can't the Times look critically at Forest City Ratner?

How hard is it to tell readers the truth? "Fairness requires the consideration of all sides of an issue; it doesn't require the uncritical reporting of any," wrote former New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent (It's Good to Be Objective. It's Even Better to Be Right., 11/14/04) . "Yet even the best reporters will sometimes display a disappointing reluctance to set things straight."

Yet sometimes Times reporters--not columnists or editorialists, who are expected to issue conclusions--do set things straight. When the evidence is solid, they use unambiguous language like "stretching the truth" or "not very" accurate, as in the examples noted below.

Unfortunately, the "he said, she said" conventions of objectivity often leave reporters triangulating between two sides, assuming that the truth lies in between and treating provable statements as contentions or accusations.

The Times's 4/16/06 article about bloggers observed of the new AtlanticYards.com web site: "A day later, the site had already drawn jeers from at least two blogs." But I had not merely jeered at the site, I had fact-checked the site and found several errors. Later I found photos that lied.

Easily checkable truth-stretching

Forest City Ratner stretches the truth (to put it charitably) in several statements about the Atlantic Yards project, but the press has been reluctant to point that out. Here are a few examples:
--the claim of "over 18,000 jobs created" does not mean 18,000 people would get work or that the jobs would be new
--the use of a quote from the Daily News touting the project's potential for jobs doesn't acknowledge that it was written before office job projections were slashed by 75 percent
--the claim of $6 billion in revenues is a manipulation of statistics, a failure to acknowledge costs, and a huge overstatement of revenues
--a slideshow claiming to show current conditions of buildings in the project footprint includes photos that show buildings before renovation
--a flier falsely claimed that the project would be built "over the... train yard" even though the railyards would be 8.3 acres of a now 22-acre project
--a flier falsely claimed that a quote from then-New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp came from the newspaper itself, and the return address for the flier did not identify the sender but merely said "Atlantic Yards"
--the developer continues to locate the project in Downtown Brooklyn.

Some fact-checking rigor

In other cases, Times reporters have more diligently searched for the truth or, as Executive Editor Bill Keller would say, "give [readers] sufficient information to make up their own minds." A 4/18/06 Times article headlined Hints of Truth-Stretching in Weld-D'Amato Feud took statements by two politicians and checked them against documents and news accounts:
Last month, William F. Weld, a candidate for governor of New York, set state Republican politics astir by telling of an encounter with Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato that cast his fellow Republican in a bad light and offered an explanation for their simmering feud.
Mr. Weld said that in 1996, when he was governor of Massachusetts and running for the Senate, he received a $750,000 check from Mr. D'Amato that was delivered with an expletive-filled warning. Mr. D'Amato vigorously denied the encounter, calling it "a bunch of baloney" and asserting that he had never even spoken to Mr. Weld in person until this year.
But an examination of Federal Election Commission filings, other campaign finance records and news accounts suggests that both men, to some degree, were stretching the truth.

[Emphasis added]
For one, there is no record to support Mr. Weld's claim that he received a $750,000 check from Mr. D'Amato, from his political action committee or from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Mr. D'Amato led during the 1995-96 election cycle. That committee and other Republican Party entities did directly contribute $802,907 to the Weld campaign and to the Massachusetts Republican Party in that cycle.
And Mr. D'Amato's claim that he had not even met Mr. Weld until this year appears to be contradicted by other accounts. Multiple news articles and interviews with two former Weld aides indicate that Mr. D'Amato and Mr. Weld were present at several large political events and fund-raisers in 1996, although there is no record that they conversed.


Another example

A 10/15/05 Times article under the category of "REALITY CHECK: Job Numbers" and headlined "Two Different Kinds of Math, and Two Spins on Unemployment," also teased out the truth, by checking with the author of a cited report:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's record on creating jobs for New Yorkers came under scrutiny this week as his Democratic challenger, Fernando Ferrer, once again accused him of ignoring the needs of poor and minority communities. At the heart of Mr. Ferrer's attack is his claim that 40 percent of the city's black men, and 33 percent of its Hispanic men, are unemployed.
Just how accurate are Mr. Ferrer's numbers? Not very.

[Emphasis added]
Mr. Ferrer's aides said his unemployment figures were based on a report by the Community Service Society, a nonpartisan group that fights poverty. The report, released in February, is titled ''Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2004: Better but Still a Long Way to Go.''
The author of that study, Mark Levitan, the group's senior policy analyst, said that he never made any such claim about minority joblessness being that high. ''My report definitely does not say the unemployment rate among blacks is 40 percent,'' Mr. Levitan said.


What it takes

Several of Forest City Ratner's deceptions would be checkable in seconds, thanks to the links posted above. All it takes is a willingness, rather than a reluctance, to set things straight.

3 comments:

  1. If the Atlanta Projects Terminal Project is awarded via the proper channels of competitive bids, any signed agreements with the groups listed in your article will become moot.

    Competitive Bidding is the normal route of awarding projects in the city. If a bidder is unqualified, he will miss different technical issues, and therefore force a rebid.

    I am sorry, but the agreement that ACORN and the other predominately black groups that are supporting this project will be in for a rude awakening when the real project is activated.

    The important portion of this project is of course in stages of completion as we currently ride out the litigation efforts. The Design of the project is where most of the key dollars will be spent, as I know you konw.

    Selecting a minority (or non-minority) general contractor from outside of the city will be a nightmare for logistical reasons, as well as supply, demobilization and mobilization issues. (I've heard from reports, this is the plan.)

    And of course when design is complete and construction begins, the main portions of the project will be complete, dollars spent, and any agreements of course will be not of any importance because technical qualifications are what matter.

    Construction start-up will get the remainder of the budget dollars which usually equal 15% or less of the total project dollars.

    For those of us in the AEC industry, when construction starts, the project is basically over, because there are "craft" or installation discipline scraps left for the construction contractors to haggle over.

    (The Demolition company being used to demo the building at Atlantic and Flatbush has mostly Mexicans, and unskilled labor which means the wages being paid are minimal, if not the minimum wage.)
    ------------------------------------------
    To answer your question, the New Yrok Times has become just as mundane as other papers, they are not reporting, researching, nor looking out for the readers which is why the dollars in sales are dipping below estimates. Basically they have "dumbed down" the most credible paper in the country. NY Times, Washington Post, and LA Times -- read one, read all. They report the same articles, except for local issues -- even local issues are repeated in other papers.

    I paid a yearly subscription fee for editorial/Time Select articles only to be disappointed when the number of editorials have decreased, continue to support Ratner "ghetto stadium plan" instead of reporting stadiums ghettoization of neighborhoods. This Ratner project should really be investigated and exposed. Only the concerned residents in the neighborhood, homeowners, and those that have increased the property values have any power in this matter.

    I am highly disappointed and afraid for our country, because the NY Times (at one time my favorite newspaperz) has become nothing but a subset of what it used to be.

    The only thing we can do is complain about the poor quality of the new "dumbed down" NY Times, do not subsribe and hopefully they will wake up, smell the coffee and begin to investigate those matters that matter to NYC residents.

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  3. Thanks for your Blog. You are a hero, because you are doing what the NY Times refuses to do.

    The NY Times is fastly losing credibiltiy with its readers due to nothing but cronyism, profit margins, and corporate interests.

    Journalism is now in intensive care.
    Again thanks.

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