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How FCR "seeks protection," why the Courier-Life needs an ombudsman (never happen), and new tales from fictioneer Witt

After the Courier-Life's notorious Stephen Witt last week gave pro-AY project hecklers an implicit endorsement and wrongly stated that Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn asked a couple of black ministers for "protection," I dissected the story and quoted one of his sources saying Witt got it wrong.

But one reader suggested a simpler response to Witt's misleading headline, AY opponents seek protection from the community.

After all, it's Forest City Ratner that has sought protection from the community; after all, no representative of the developer was willing to face questions at a public meeting for nearly three years before MaryAnne Gilmartin appeared at an informational session on July 22. And when Gilmartin left the room, she had a couple of people clearing a path for her.

DDDB's response

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn sent a letter, published in the paper this week under the headline "At Witt's end." (Click on graphics to enlarge)

To The Editor:
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) stands accused, by "reporter" Steve Witt, of community organizing and outreach.''
To that we plead guilty, as we are a grassroots, community-based organization. We are extremely proud of the widespread support we have (which has grown larger and larger, year after year, since 2004), the alliances we have made in Brooklyn and beyond, and the community organizing and outreach we have done over the years. I state this to counter the fiction published in this paper by Witt.
How long are you going to allow Steve Witt to write fiction in the news pages, and support such fiction only with anonymous allegations?
In some weird attempt to smear the Atlantic Yards opposition, gin up a conflict that doesn't exist and abet Forest City Ratner's deliberate attempts to divide the community along lines of race and class, his article headlined, "AY opponents seek protection from the community" claims that "following several raucous meetings concerning the Atlantic Yards project, opponents have put out the call for protection."
This is a wild and baseless accusation, and is offensive, absurd, and bizarre - and it is fiction. Witt fails in his attempt to suggest that DDDB and our supporters are somehow not part of the community. Sorry, Steve, but we are.
Having said that, we would like to seek protection from Witt's dangerous and incendiary brand of "journalism." Can we get some help on that?

Daniel Goldstein
Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn

Stephen Witt replies: I stand by the story as written.


Any remedies?

Well, we don't expect Witt--a reporter who took seriously the incoherent claim that AY foes "are the real land grabbers, because they took the property first and turned back what was jobs into condos"--to own up to errors.

Nor will his bosses.

The Courier-Life needs an ombudsman to handle complaints. It's a very imperfect solution--the New York Times's Public Editors have steered clear of Atlantic Yards--but at least it's a solution.

Another solution is simply more public criticism, However, the most obvious venue, a competing newspaper, no longer exists. The Brooklyn Paper, which once chronicled Witt's more colorful activities--like hugging developer Bruce Ratner--is now a sibling to the Courier-Life, both owned by Rupert Murdoch's Community Newspapers Group.

The new novel

Another article in the Courier-Life, credited to Junico Simino (who co-bylined Witt's AY stories last week), salutes Witt's first novel, issued by Never Sink Books, a fledgling publisher:
"American Moses" by Stephen Witt is a tale of reinvention, courage, faith, love, and the pursuit of the American dream.
It tells the story of Southie Lewis and his family, who while living in fictional Port Decker, NY (based on Port Jervis, NY), encounter racism and persecution, all of which accumulates when the town synagogue is burned down.
Members of the town's Jewish community then come together and decide, under the reluctant leadership of Southie, to leave Port Decker and head west toward Sin City.
With high hopes, Southie and his family travel on a road that is filled with joy, self-reflection and heartbreak.
"When you live in a small town, you get a better idea of what America is about you deal with people on a day-to-day basis," says Witt, a Kensington resident who hails from Chicago, IL, and who also happens to be a reporter for this newspaper.
He claims the inspiration for "Moses," his first novel which he spent seven years writing, came from advice he had received about creative writing: "Write what you know."
Indeed, "Moses" draws most of its influence from Witt's own life. Much like the novel's main character Southie, Witt has traveled all across America and the world, working various odd jobs from a baker in Boston to a grape picker in France to a concierge in Israel.
...Although originally from the Windy City, Witt's first break into the world of journalism was as a New York City subway musician. It was during this point that he began to write a first-person account of being a subway musician.


So Witt has an interesting background. But there's no sign it includes a rigorous attachment to the practice of journalistic inquiry.

What's a journalist, online or off? Let's go to Scott Rosenberg:
Blogging could be journalism anytime the person writing a blog chose to act like a journalist — recording and reacting to the events of the day, asking questions and seeking answers, checking facts and fixing errors. Similarly, journalists could become bloggers anytime they adopted the format of a blog as a vessel for their work.

How much of what Witt writes regarding AY is journalism?

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