Skip to main content

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.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…