Friday, July 17, 2009

Courier-Life's Witt responds to letter, misses the point completely

I wrote a letter June 15 to the Courier-Life chain complaining about unfounded criticism of me; rather than publishing it in the first issue possible, the newspaper has waited until the fifth issue, with a similarly unfounded response from reporter Stephen Witt.

The letter:
Stephen Witt's article, "Daughtry slams Yards critics," giving Atlantic Yards supporter the Rev. Herbert Daughtry a platform to argue unrebutted, is sloppy, irresponsible, and unfair.

While Rev. Daughtry claims elected officials like City Council Member Letitia James and State Senator Velmanette Montgomery are "captured" by a small minority of anti-Atlantic Yards constituents, he ignores the fact that his longtime ally, City Council Member Charles Barron, has long opposed the project.

Witt quotes Daughtry as touting benefits from the project, including a health center and an intergenerational center. Neither acknowledge that developer Forest City Ratner has 12 years to build Phase 1, which would include the health center, and there's no timetable for Phase 2, which would include the intergenerational center.

Witt quotes Daughtry as saying, to the best of his knowledge, I never contacted him to learn "his side." Witt neither contacted me nor checked my blog to see if that was accurate. I've had ample opportunity to learn Daughtry's "side," and queried Daughtry in person after a forum in 2006; he wouldn't answer a question about the source of funding for his Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance.

Witt disparages me by writing that "many media outlets utilize [my blog] for information without checking his facts," but offers no evidence of errors in my work. Witt should be more careful about fact-checking himself.

For more of my response, go to bit.ly/10dTwS.


Witt's response

Stephen Witt responds:
Mr. Oder,
Rev. Daughtry deserves his say. The fact that many longtime community people support the project has been largely ignored by all the media, including your highly speculative brand of "citizen journalism." I do note that since my article came out you and a few other media outlets that push the public agenda are beginning to include these views. I also don't agree with journalists that buy into your view that Rev. Daughtry and other groups who signed the CBA are somehow tainted as sources because Ratner helped fund their non-profits. These groups represent thousands of people of all income levels. They are respected in the community and their points of view are just as valid as those who oppose the project. I suggested you take your "brutally weird" self down to the BUILD office and speak to those in the waiting room looking for work.


My rebuttal

It's not a question of whether Rev. Daughtry deserves his say; surely he has been having his say, especially while heckling at the May 29 state Senate oversight hearing.

It's just that, as I wrote, Daughtry's arguments are debatable, and Witt ignores countervailing evidence, such as my citation of Daughtry's longtime ally Charles Barron, an Atlantic Yards opponent, and the long delays in delivering the benefits Daughtry seeks.

Witt ignores the evidence I provide regarding whether I have contacted Daughtry or learned "his side."

Witt initially disparaged me by writing that "many media outlets utilize [my blog] for information without checking his facts," but offered no evidence of errors in my work. He continues to do so in his response, citing my "highly speculative brand of 'citizen journalism.'"

Highly speculative and "brutally weird"? I think that applies to the "real land-grabbers" quote Witt dutifully published.

Yes, I've been to the BUILD office. I recognize that large construction projects create jobs and that people involved in groups and unions that train people or organize workers have an interest in seeing those projects go forward. But that doesn't obviate the responsibility to examine the project.

Witt suggests that it's simply "my view" that groups that signed the CBA are tainted as sources. I direct him to experts on CBAs like Good Jobs New York, Good Jobs First, and the Partnership for Working Families.

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