Monday, June 29, 2009

And how did the Courier-Life's Witt twist last week's news? With a head count

So, after three board meetings (with opportunity for public comment) in which state agencies advanced Atlantic Yards, how would the Courier-Life's notorious Stephen Witt sum it up?

Well, his main story, headlined Bruce Ratner seals sweetheart deal with MTA, was better than the worst of the coverage, since it mentions the deferred payments and the generous interest rate, while ignoring the approval of a truncated permanent railyard that would save developer Forest City Ratner $100 million.

Most of the article, however, consists of boilerplate description of the project, with no mention of the Empire State Development Corporation's acknowledgment that most of the project--and thus most of the announced benefits--might be delayed.

Counting heads

However, a companion article, headlined Yards supporters outnumber foes, showed Witt's uncanny ability to twist the news:
The Empire State Development Corporation and MTA public meetings last week regarding the Atlantic Yards project highlighted once again how Brooklynites in support of the project far outnumbers opponents.

At the ESDC hearing before the vote to approve a modified General Project Plan, 40 members of the public gave comment with 31 speaking in favor of the project.

This group represented all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, while opponents were mainly white and⁄or property owners.

The numbers were similar at the public comment session before the MTA approved an air rights deal worth over $100 million with developer Forest City Ratner so the 22−acre arena and mixed market⁄affordable housing project rate⁄housing can move forward.


Witt somehow treats the decision of 31 people, most associated with organizations that profit from (or stand to profit from) the alliance with Bruce Ratner/Atlantic Yards arena, to testify at one board meeting--not a public hearing--during work hours as a definitive indication of community sentiment.

He neglects the fact that the issue before the MTA board was not the project itself, but whether it should renegotiate the sale of the Vanderbilt Yard into what even his own newspaper calls a "sweetheart deal."

In other words, their testimony about the virtues of the project was irrelevant. Sure, development brings jobs, but the MTA is a transportation agency.

Also, no elected officials (other than a rep for) Borough President Marty Markowitz spoke in favor of the MTA bailout, while four spoke against it. Also calling for caution were the Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA--all organizations that represent far more people than the individuals/groups Witt cites.

Looking at some testimony

As for the testimony, consider that Carpenters Union official Ray Brugueras testified that the MTA should offer Forest City Ratner a sweetheart deal because Bruce Ratner "has the monies available" to get through economic hard times. (If so, shouldn't Ratner have paid the original pledged price?)



Also consider that James Caldwell of Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development (BUILD) scoffed at the question of the value of the land and likened the Ratner bailout to the federal stimulus package (which, I'd point out, was not directed at one recipient). 

Why did President Obama produce the stimulus package, Caldwell asked rhetorically: "Because everyone was suffering. So Mr. Ratner may fall in that same category too."

If Mr. Ratner truly were suffering, shouldn't he be willing to answer questions in an open forum? After all, he claimed last month that no more subsidies were needed.



Public support vs. governmental oversight

Witt also offers a notable non sequitur:
This outpouring of support did not stop opponent organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and its spokesperson Daniel Goldstein from offering up a threats of new litigation.
(Emphasis added; there's little evidence of editing at the Courier-Life)

There's no connection between the "outpouring of support" and the threat of litigation. The threat of litigation reflects on the MTA board's willingness to seal the deal without opening the valuable publicly-owned site to new bids, to get a new appraisal, or to consider a last-minute bid from DDDB.

Witt neglects to point out the questions raised by elected officials like Assemblyman jim Brennan and State Senator Bill Perkins, both of whom questioned the failure to seek a new appraisal for the site and warned the MTA might be violating the Public Authorities Accountability Act.

2 comments:

  1. Witt is one of the more dangerous creatures around: a bad reporter with a naked bias who realizes (or admits to) neither.

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  2. If you really want some danger, check out my first novel, American Moses. It's coming out this summer on Never Sink Books (NSB).

    ReplyDelete