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Anatomy of a New York Times AY error

1. In an April 5 round-up article on Atlantic Yards, an underinformed Times reporter, abetted by underinformed editors, describes Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) as an organization "which opposes the scale of the plan."

2. The Times does not publish a correction, which would be attached to the previous article in the archive, but instead, on April 12, publishes a letter from DDDB's Dan Goldstein explaining "Our organization does not merely oppose the scale of the plan, we oppose Forest City Ratner’s project itself on many principled grounds."

3. Another even more underinformed reporter, who has no experience covering AY but (likely) just happens to be available on a late Friday afternoon, is handed the assignment of describing, in a paragraph, the decision by Justice Joan A. Madden to reject a temporary restraining order regarding demolitions. In Saturday's paper, abetted by underinformed editors, he writes that the TRO "had been requested by Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes the scale of the 22-acre project."

Not only had the TRO not been requested solely by DDDB, because it's part of a coalition of groups in the suit, but the organization does not simply oppose the project's scale. And the headline, "Atlantic Yards Can Proceed," is not correct, either, because only the demolitions can proceed; the project itself depends on the dismissal or resolution of three lawsuits.

4. Shouldn't the Times be extra careful when covering news relating to projects being built by Forest City Ratner, business partner of the parent New York Times Company?

The Public Editor, Byron Calame, wrote 6/29/05:
The Times’s most important obligation, of course, is to make sure there’s no bias in any articles it does publish about Mr. Ratner. But avoiding the perception of any tilt toward Mr. Ratner in its pages is also essential. One of the best ways to avoid a perception problem is to make certain that substantive articles about Mr. Ratner and his real estate dealings include full disclosure about his business relationship with The Times.

OK, maybe the most recent article referenced above wasn't "substantive" enough to require disclosure. (The first article was, but lacked the disclosure.) Still, given that the careless errors noted above seem to work in the developer's favor, the paper must do better to avoid "the perception of tilt." How many times must this be said?

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