Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Has the Times presented readers with AY information they need to make up their own minds?

As I've written before, I don't think there's a directive in the New York Times newsroom to go easy on developer Forest City Ratner. But I do think there's an obligation to be exacting, given the business relationship between the newspaper company and FCR, and the Times has too often failed.

In fact, by the Times's own definition, I'd say the coverage has fallen extremely short.

The Public Editor's take

Bias is a tricky thing, wrote New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt last Sunday, in a column mainly about political coverage. None of us are objective. We like news that supports our views and dislike what may challenge them. We tend to pick apart each article, word by word, failing to remember that it is part of a river of information from which facts can be plucked to support many points of view. Perversely, we magnify what displeases us and minimize what we like.

Fair enough.

And what's the solution? Hoyt quoted Executive Editor Bill Keller: "Our responsibility, as Times journalists, is to set our personal biases aside, approach the news with an open, skeptical mind, and present readers with the information they need to make up their own minds."

In some cases, as in coverage of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's effort to get the City Council to overturn or extend voter-imposed term limits, the Times has worked hard to present vital information such as Bloomberg's use of his philanthropic muscle.

What about Atlantic Yards?

With Atlantic Yards, the Times has too often failed to present such information. When developer Forest City Ratner promoted its own "Brooklyn Day" rally, which was, as New York Daily News sports columnist Michael O'Keeffe observed, "a dud," the Daily News headlined its coverage Ratner cooks up rally for Brooklyn project.

The Times ignored it completely.

The Times has similarly ignored the information people "need to make up their own minds." It has never published any rendering of the project's scale in neighborhood context.

And, in coverage of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), the Times deemed the project a "modern blueprint", without acknowledging definitive testimony by Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York, who told City Council in 2005 about "several major differences between CBAs as they have been used in other parts of the country and the series of negotiations that FCRC is calling a CBA."

There's more, but these three examples are striking enough. In fact, "it's Orwellian almost," to reprise a comment by former Forest City Ratner front man Jim Stuckey to the credulous Times.

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