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Ratner's "20 court decisions" claim requires proof

Yesterday, Forest City Ratner CEO Bruce Ratner, upon the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement it would take the Atlantic Yards eminent domain appeal, said, "The opponents have now lost 20 court decisions relating to Atlantic Yards...." That was repeated without skepticism in the press, such as in the New York Times's CityRoom blog.

Is that true? Well, maybe they've lost 20 decisions if we count decisions on specific motions. But then we'd have to count motions that opponents have won. And we'd have to count the cases opponents have won. NoLandGrab's scorecard, while probably flawed, strikes me as more accurate than Ratner's claim, especially since Ratner has provided no list.

Until the developer provides a list of the 20 decisions won, the press shouldn't be quoting the claim without rebuttal. The facts are verifiable.

(NLG's list probably flawed? I mean that it might include a list of motions--and, at least, the Williams case mentioned was of a different order than the others.)

A correction, or a post-modern fact?

In other words, it's easier to check Ratner's statement than some reporting for the New York Times Magazine that prompted then-Public Editor Daniel Okrent, in a 2/29/04 column headlined What Do You Know, and How Do You Know It?, to write:
At magazines, fact-checking can help you get details right, but can't pin down the un-pindownable: sometimes, a source will make an assertion -- for instance, that he saw women walking through Cottonwood Canyon, Calif., in high heels.... Virtually all the fact-checker can do is call the source and ask, ''Did you see women walking through Cottonwood Canyon in high heels?'' The firmest ''yes'' doesn't even approach proof. It's often not the fact that gets checked, but the fact that someone said it was a fact.

Unfortunately, I fear the Times will not correct Ratner's error but consider it not worthy of a correction because "the fact that [he] said it was a fact." How very post-modern.

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