Sunday, December 02, 2007

If the Times covered Atlantic Yards like a political race

If the New York Times applied the same level of scrutiny to developers as it does to political candidates, it might find that Forest City Ratner fudges as much as some of the latter. A front-page Times article Friday, headlined Citing Statistics, Giuliani Misses Time and Again, was remarkably pointed:
In almost every appearance as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, Rudolph W. Giuliani cites a fusillade of statistics and facts to make his arguments about his successes in running New York City and the merits of his views.

Discussing his crime-fighting success as mayor, Mr. Giuliani told a television interviewer that New York was “the only city in America that has reduced crime every single year since 1994.” In New Hampshire this week, he told a public forum that when he became mayor in 1994, New York “had been averaging like 1,800, 1,900 murders for almost 30 years.” When a recent Republican debate turned to the question of fiscal responsibility, he boasted that “under me, spending went down by 7 percent.”

All of these statements are incomplete, exaggerated or just plain wrong. And while, to be sure, all candidates use misleading statistics from time to time, Mr. Giuliani has made statistics a central part of his candidacy as he campaigns on his record.

And applied to AY?

What if the Times applied the same level of scrutiny toward the claims of Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner and project backers in city and state government?

Take the developer's claim, on the Atlantic Yards web site, about jobs and revenue:
The development will produce tremendous economic growth for the borough and city, creating more than 15,000 union construction jobs plus between 1,500 and 6,400 permanent jobs, as well as generating over $5.6 billion in tax revenue for the city and state over 30 years.

The jobs are 1500 jobs a year over ten years, and the tax revenue--well, it certainly doesn't come from any official source.

Or consider this claim, also on the web site, about the Community Benefits Agreement:
In addition, over 200 community leaders and organizations have affirmed their support for the landmark agreement.

However, those entities, as the New York Observer reported, included elected officials, restaurants, and real-estate agencies.

Backing off the CB claim

A brochure the developer issued in May 2006 stated, "Three local community boards (CBs 2, 6, 8)... served as advisors in crafting the CBA." As I reported, the community boards protested that that overstated their role and asked that mention of their participation be discontinued.

No such assent was immediately forthcoming, and Forest City Ratner executive Jim Stuckey wouldn't commit to editing out that mention from future communications.

I checked the other day, however, and noticed that the claim about the CBs' participation has been excised from the current online version of a 4/6/06 email newsletter from the developer. The original version of that newsletter, featuring text now excised, is at right; click to enlarge.

The abovementioned examples, and many more, could lead the Times to conclude that, indeed, the developer "has made statistics a central part" of its campaign, and that many of the statistics aren't quite right.

Perhaps the Times doesn't feel comfortable applying such scrutiny because its own coverage, as noted in multiple examples of rowback, is vulnerable to criticism as well. Or maybe it's just a journalistic culture that doesn't yet recognize that powerful entities deserve scrutiny across the board.

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