Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Times finally reports (two years late) on poll results opposing Brooklyn arena

It's the third poll regarding Atlantic Yards that the New York Times had failed to report. In an article today about the mayor's defense of eminent domain, headlined Bloomberg Says Power to Seize Private Land Is Vital to Cities, the New York Times offers these curious paragraphs:
In New York, for example, the proposed use of eminent domain by the developer Forest City Ratner to bring a basketball arena and a swath of residential, office and commercial towers to the Atlantic Terminal area touched off fierce opposition, especially in surrounding neighborhoods.
The concept, though, proved unpopular elsewhere as well. A New York Times poll in April 2004 found that only 18 percent of city residents favored the construction of a new basketball arena in Brooklyn it if it required the demolition of homes and businesses. (Forest City Ratner is the development partner of The New York Times Company in building its new Midtown headquarters, a project that itself involved government condemnation of private property.)


No report at the time

Did the Times report this in April 2004? The main report on the poll, a 4/23/04 article headlined Mayor's Rating Up; Poll Sees Deep Split On School Policies focused on Bloomberg's treatment of the schools. One paragraph stated:
The respondents to the poll showed strong support for his other initiatives. When asked if they liked the idea of New York playing host to the Summer Olympics in 2012, a goal Mr. Bloomberg has actively pursued, 71 percent said yes. Almost half said they would like to see a new sports stadium built on the West Side of Manhattan (although far fewer, 21 percent, liked the idea of taxpayers picking up some of the tab for that stadium).

There was no mention of the Atlantic Yards project. A graphic chart included questions about Bloomberg's overall job performance, the city's economy, education, the smoking ban, and a sports stadium on the West Side.

Clicking to the results

The online version of the article offers Complete Results, where the arena questions can be found:

58. Do you think favor or oppose building a new arena in Brooklyn for the Nets? (Favor/Oppose/DK or NA)

4/16-21 45 42 14
Whites474112
Blacks434313
Hispanic414416


59. IF FAVOR, ASK: What if new arena requires the demolition of the local homes and businesses? Then do you favor or oppose building a new arena in Brooklyn? (Favor/Oppose/DK or NA)

4/16-21 18 25 4
Whites23225
Blacks18282
Hispanic15243


Part of a pattern

Did this represent an unwillingness to report bad news about the Atlantic Yards project? (The parent New York Times Company is partnering with Forest City Ratner, developer of the Brooklyn project, in the new Times Tower, but the newspaper's policy is that the parent company's business interests do not affect newsroom decisions.)

Or was it simply an indifference to news about Brooklyn, compounded by space constraints? It's hard to be sure, but if the Times thought the Brooklyn arena question was worth asking, then the results should be worth reporting.

It's worth a look by outsiders, including the Public Editor. After all, as noted in Chapter 5 of my report, the Times reported on a 4/1/04 Quinnipiac University poll, but only the results regarding the proposed West Side Stadium, while five other newspapers also reported the poll results regarding the proposed Brooklyn arena.

Another Times poll ignored

Also, in a 6/29/05 article Big Issues Lift Mayor's Rating to a New High, based on results of a poll the Times conducted with CBS News, the Times reported on negative attitudes to sports facilities, but did not report in print on the results regarding the proposed Brooklyn arena. Only those clicking to full poll results would learn that the ambivalent but negative attitudes toward a proposed arena became far more negative if the project would cost $200 million in public funds.

But the article didn't mention Brooklyn:
Mr. Bloomberg's drive for new sports stadiums was singled out the most by voters when they were asked about the worst feature of his administration. Nearly half of those surveyed approved of plans to build a new stadium for the Mets and the Olympic Games in Queens, but that support dropped to about a quarter when they were told the stadium could cost as much as $180 million in public money.

So why couldn't they mention the results from the poll regarding the Brooklyn arena? Interestingly, the full poll results contrast overall attitudes toward the arena from those surveyed in June 2005 (37% favor, 45% oppose, 17% don't know) to those surveyed in April 2004 (45% favor, 42% oppose, 14% don't know). Now we know where those April 2004 results come from.

The Times's own disclosure

Today's article does disclose that the Times Tower project "itself involved government condemnation of private property." The Times has been inconsistent in disclosing its own benefit from eminent domain, but perhaps this signals an increased commitment to disclosure.

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