Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Times's editorial blind spot (again) regarding Atlantic Yards

This New York Times's editorial page has again punted on an obvious opportunity to repeat its opposition to direct subsidies for the Atlantic Yards project.

As noted in Chapter 1 of my report, a 6/19/05 editorial (A Tale of Two Stadiums) in the City Weekly section criticized public subsidies for a new Mets stadium in Queens and a new Yankees stadium in the Bronx:
The new stadiums will still require direct and indirect public subsidies of several hundred million dollars…the teams will get a pretty good feeding at the public trough.

The failure to criticize (or even acknowledge) similar subsidies for the proposed Brooklyn Arena was glaring, given that the City section was a special issue devoted to "The New Brooklyns" and that a previous editorial (A Triple Play for New York Teams, 3/27/05) stated:
But the city and state are each supposed to contribute $100 million to build streets and sidewalks and prepare the site for development. That’s unnecessary: Mr. Ratner should pay his own way.
(See Chapter 13 of my report)

Blind spot redux

An editorial yesterday, headlined Playing Governor Knows Best, assessed New York Governor George Pataki's cuts in the state budget:
The governor also wiped out about $200 million worth of undesignated funds that the legislators enjoy spending on pet projects in their home districts. That last gesture alone would earn him a gold star — except that he left intact the other huge vat of money for economic development. That left him cutting funds for college buildings while paying $150 million to help build stadiums for the already rich owners of the Yankees and the Mets. (Emphasis added)

Unmentioned was the sum--at least $66 million and possibly the full $100 million sought by developer Forest City Ratner--designated for the Brooklyn Arena and the Atlantic Yards project.

Just ignorance?

It's possible that the issue wasn't on the editorial page's radar screen--the press has devoted very little space to the subsidies. The Times gave the issue part of one sentence in the middle of an article (With Ink Not Yet Dry on Budget, Pataki Aides Assail the Legislature's Plan) on page 5 of the 3/30/06 Metro section: The budget agreement also included $33 million for the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, and $60 million for Yonkers that can be used to help close a roughly $100 million budget gap.

The Times did not follow up and report that $33 million had been added by the State Senate and that more might come from the Governor.

By contrast, the Times published more then ten stories in less than a week regarding the scandal surrounding a New York Post "Page Six" contributor's alleged attempt to extort money from a wealthy businessman who had been portrayed unflatteringly on the page.

The Times's position

It's not that the Times doesn't have a position on direct subsidies for the Atlantic Yards project. An 11/27/05 editorial in the City Weekly section, headlined "A Matter of Scale in Brooklyn," repeated the newspaper's opposition to subsidies:
Mr. Ratner has always made it clear that he expects government aid in preparing the arena site, and the city and state have each committed to pitch in $100 million in cash to help. There is no reason to expect taxpayer money to be used to help fund a profit-making real estate venture like this one; those costs should be absorbed by the builder. (Emphasis added)

Who monitors the editorials?

The Times, needless to say, should have been consistent and mentioned its opposition to subsidies in Brooklyn--or to explain why it wasn't opposing them in this case..

Could executives at Forest City Ratner, which is building the new Times Tower in partnership with the New York Times Company, called publisher Arthur Sulzberger and asked him to make sure that the Atlantic Yards plan wasn't mentioned?

(The publisher does intervene in the editorial page, not the news pages. As the Times reported in a 10/16/05 article about the Judith Miller case: The editorial page, which is run by Mr. Sulzberger and Gail Collins, the editorial page editor, championed Ms. Miller's cause. The Times published more than 15 editorials and called for Congress to pass a shield law that would make it harder for federal prosecutors to compel reporters to testify.
Mr. Sulzberger said he did not personally write the editorials, but regularly urged Ms. Collins to devote space to them.
)

I don't know--the explanation could more easily have been sloppiness or a simple failure to know about the issue, as noted above.

This might seem a natural question for Public Editor Byron Calame--the readers' representative--to check out. After all, he considers among his obligations Monitoring The Times's journalistic integrity - which, for me, means accuracy and fairness in both reality and perception.

However, as Calame wrote 9/2/05 in his Web Journal: Opinions expressed on the editorial and Op-Ed pages of The New York Times aren’t part of the public editor’s mandate. But the facts are. And so are corrections of any misstatements.

So who monitors the "accuracy and fairness in both reality and perception" of the editorials?

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