Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Dig-it-all! “Truthy” His-Stories On the Decline
In today’s New York Times there is an interesting piece by Jim Dwyer, “When Official Truth Collides With Cheap Digital Technology.” The subheading in the print edition is “History, once written by the victors, now written by anyone with a digital camera.”
The story is about the much viewed (400,000 times) video on YouTube of a police officer flinging himself in a football style maneuver to knock a passing Critical Mass bicyclist off his bicycle. The video tells the truth of a story far different from the story the police officer swore to in his report of the incident.
Dwyer’s piece makes the point that “The availability of cheap digital technology — video cameras, digital cameras, cellphone cameras — has ended a monopoly on the history of public gatherings that was limited to the official narratives, like the sworn documents created by police officers and prosecutors. The digital age has brought in free-range history.”
Good point and you could take it a few steps further and apply it to communities setting the record straight with respect to big city development. No longer will history be written by the ribbon-cutters if big megadevlopements succeed. NOT if they are unwilling to stick to the truth.
Digital technology is comprehensively laying down the actual facts.
Just take a look at Norman Oder’s story today, “Typo? City/state letter on tax-exempt bonds backdates MTA RFP by three years” where he zeros in to block the tricky use of a backdating “typo” amongst other organized misinformation in a letter to the IRS by which the New York City Industrial Development Authority and the Empire State Development Corporation attempt to rewrite history. They have reason to try to rewrite history since the history is not pretty. (History includes the award of 22 acres of Brooklyn to Ratner Organization on a no-bid basis, giving Ratner a theoretical monopoly on 30 contiguous acres.)
Once upon a time, the true history of big city development was inaccessibly buried in musty old city records. Only the power brokers who wanted to tell a story with their particular slant could mobilize the resources to selectively surface the facts or non-facts that supported the tale they wanted to tell. Now you know that if you want the true story about a project like Atlantic Yards you skip the official press releases and quickie news stories that feed off them and go to sources like Oder’s Atlantic Yards Report.
The Atlantic Yards megaproject may be the only megadevelopment to have the trifecta-plus of Atlantic Yards Report, No Land Grab, Develop Don’t Destroy together with numerous other fine auxiliary Brooklyn community web-sites that contribute information and assessments (Gowanus Lounge, Brownstoner, etc, etc.). The relentless assiduousness of journalist Norman Oder is also a hard- to-duplicate and especially valuable asset in dealing with an off-base project like Atlantic Yards. Nevertheless, other communities like Greenwich Village opposing the Rudin/St. Vincent’s real estate density grab are well resourced and in a position to take advantage of the new technology. Similarly, the story needs to be kept straight by those of West Harlem opposing the Columbia University’s abuse of eminent domain and the Coney Island community fighting to commute Coney’s death sentence. Willet’s Point? The list goes on.
With digital technology the actual truth is not only more readily at hand when offered up by a dedicated community, it is there in depth and better organized to tell the story. You know there will be major books written about the Atlantic Yards abuses because the abuses reach an unparalleled zenith. You also know where ALL the facts hang out and you know every Ratner-financed myth that has been examined and busted.
One of our exercises in law school was to study judicial opinions for what they said and then study them afresh with reference to the facts available elsewhere they neglected to state. I was always impressed that my professors were able to dredge up the real facts for those exercises. Now those kinds of facts are just a click away. Courts that ignore them do so at their peril.
The Internet also preserves. People point out how you’d better be careful about youthful indiscretions on Facebook that will follow you through an entire career. Similarly, bureaucrats whose names and slack deeds once-upon-a-time disappeared facelessly into dusty old tomes will now, instead, be enshrined forever as nogoodniks in our permanently accessible digital memories.
The treatises are coming. History is being written. But it is a new kind of history. I think that the Times’ Dwyer is right when he suggests that now history belongs more to the community of individuals dedicated to the truth and less to those who might previously have had the power to vanquish them.