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The "spirit of the Times," or why there's no editorial criticism of Ratner

Maybe you were wondering why the New York Times editorial board, despite being capable of skepticism about development puffery, has produced confused and lame editorials supporting Atlantic Yards and remained (I speculate) in the gridlock of silence, failing to take a stand pro or con when a questionable process finally reached the Public Authorities Control Board at the end of 2006.

Well, the parent New York Times Company partnered with Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner on the new Times Tower headquarters on Eighth Avenue, and the Times even agreed to guarantee a loan, as Editor and Publisher reported last year.

While that doesn't mean the business relationship influences coverage--though I've long argued that obligates the Times to do a better job--the editorial page is not so insulated. The Times itself has acknowledged publicly that its publisher influences the editorials.

And even clearer explanation of the connection between boss and doctrine came from Editorial Board Member Carolyn Curiel, the main writer of editorials on local issues, interviewed 10/31/07 by "One to One" CUNY-TV host Sheryl McCarthy.

The "spirit of the Times"

At about 1:57, Curiel explained: Our goal is to reflect the spirit of the Times and the opinion of the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

She continued: And a lot of it is driven by the news pages, but we don't consult with the news pages. We arrive at our own opinions, we do our own reporting. It's very time-consuming, for what will end up in the paper to be maybe five, six, seven, eight inches of copy, sometimes days, sometimes weeks have gone into processing all the information. But that's our task... it's the result of 18 people hammering something out.

But reporting in this case didn't extend to, say, attending a board meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation.


McCarthy wanted to know how decisions are reached: So you talk it out, you reach a consensus...?

CC: It's not a democracy. Consensus is often arrived at, sure, but not always.... There is something of a position being hammered out at the table.

At 11:04, Curiel reiterated the point: Again, we're not a democracy. We are reasoned, in how we come to opinion. But no, it's not a democracy; it's reflective of the spirit of the Times.

Of course, every newspaper, from the New York Post to the Brooklyn Paper, reflects the spirit of its owner. It's just that we expect a little more from the Times, that the editorial page's voice of urbane liberalism, tinged with pragmatism--to offer a rough summary--would lead to skepticism about a project such as Atlantic Yards.

The spirit of the Times in the case of AY is a muddled one, undoubtedly reflecting both private as well as civic goals.

Ignoring news broken on blogs

At about 19:20, Curiel sounded like she never learned a thing from a blog:
The industry is changing in ways that no one can really accurately predict at this point...I believe the Times will be forever, in whatever format... it will always be around. People point to all of the online content, and I say it's all derivative, and much of it derives from the New York Times. You will always need quality reporting, quality editing, and presentation that people can actually use.
(Emphasis added)

If only she recognized how many print stories that go into the Times (and other papers) were generated by local bloggers/reporters. Or how many stories the Times ignores.

Will the Times comment on Forest City Ratner's large "soft money" donation to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee's Housekeeping account, a gift that has drawn criticism from the watchdog Brennan Center for Justice and from Common Cause, and which generated only silence from the donor and donee?

Don't hold your breath.


  1. Two of the most absolutely major stories confronting New York City and New York State are not being covered by the New York Times. They both interlock. One is Atlantic Yards. The other is eminent domain abuse.

    Atlantic Yards is an important story because it will have such a significant negative impact on the city. It is a story because it is such poor design and will be destructive to the Brooklyn economy. It represents a huge misdirection of resources because well over a $1.5 billion in pubic subsidies and funds are proposed to be misdirected into it. (Compare, the extension of the East River promenade and creation of a badly needed public space and park below the United Nations: An important project which is fighting for funding that is currently estimated to cost a mere $80 - $100 million.) It is a political story because a governor, a mayor and a city council are responsible for not stepping in to direct those funds properly. It is a national story because it involves the way super-rich individuals like Bruce Ratner are playing strange manipulative games with the finance of sports stadiums and arenas (just like George W. Bush did).

    Finally, Atlantic yards is also a national story because it involves the gratuitous abuse of eminent domain to go after extra windfall profit.

    But the Times is not covering the Atlantic Yards story and it is not covering the eminent domain abuse story. The Times was partners with Forest City Ratner on the building of its new headquarters. And, when building its new headquarters the Times acquired land for its site at a below market cost through the use of eminent domain so it is “a little bit pregnant” when it comes to examining the underlying principles associated with the abuse of eminent domain for private development.


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