Readers of Noticing New York and followers of multitudinous Atlantic Yards shenanigans will be well acquainted with how thoroughly Orwellian local New York politics can be as any semblance of fixed reality is readily allowed to go “down the memory hole.” As Norman Oder of Atlantic Yards Reports (whose “down the memory hole” phrase we quote here) has ample and regular opportunity to note, much of what vanishes down that hole goes flushed out of our consciousness via articles written by an abetting media.
It’s “Orwellian” when those in power say that things are the way they want the public to perceive them with no respect for history or the way things really are. We’ve seen “Orwellian” in eras past and likely we will see it again to disguise the non-completion of Atlantic Yards. It was “Orwellian” back in 1986 when it was proudly announced to the NYC public that the Jacob Javits Conference Center had been completed relatively on budget ($487 million vs. $375 million) and on schedule (only two years late) ignoring the fact that the completed center was only half as large as what was planned when construction was begun. But now it seems as if we are living with “Orwellian” as we have never before.
There is a new National Notice article up for your delectation of things Orwellian. It involves the reversal Bloomberg biographer, Joyce Purnick, made when she declared just weeks ago on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show that New York City’s billionaire mayor is “a firm supporter of the First Amendment” when in her 2009 biography of Mr. Bloomberg she describes him as anything but. Ms. Purnick’s new point of view arrived coincidentally with the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to depict Bloomberg as a civil libertarian as he orchestrated eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park. (All the details are al available here: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, Orwellian Purnick Purge: Bloomberg Biographer Rewrites Billionaire Mayor’s Record On First Amendment Free Speech Rights.)
Noticing New York readers may recall that we once considered Ms. Purnick’s Bloomberg biography “Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics” in the context of how it expunged from his portrait depiction of “significantly errant Bloombergian megadevelopment” and particularly Atlantic Yards, notwithstanding Ms. Purnick’s having been thoroughly briefed on that megadevelopment’s outrages. See: Saturday, October 3, 2009, What Purnick Has Purged: The Bloomberg Bio Mysteriously Missing Atlantic Yards.
The National Notice article is a follow-up to an earlier National Notice article about how, in much the same way, the New York Times started running stories proclaiming that Bloomberg was a champion of the First Amendment and free speech in connection with its coverage of his eviction of the OWS protesters even though the Times history of coverage on Bloomberg in this regard is very much to the contrary. (See: Sunday, November 20, 2011, Question of Truth For The Times: The Meme of Bloomberg as Champion of the First Amendment & Free Speech, Firmly Planted Before OWS Eviction.) It definitely seems as if Ms. Purnick was trying to fall in line with this flattering revisionism offered by the Times rather than stand by her own reporting in the previously published biography.
There is always a concern that biographies written by biographers getting special access to their subjects will be too adulatory. The prior Noticing New York article included observations that Ms. Purnick’s book was mostly admiring of Bloomberg. Usually however the problem envisioned with respect to such bias is that the biographer will be too deferential to its subject when the biography comes out, not that the biographer, due to an ongoing deference to the subject of their book, will subsequently act as if the book they wrote no longer says what it said when they wrote it.
Think what it would be like if biographers treated the facts of the biographies they’ve written as malleable to the ebb and flow of political fashion. In 2007 when a march was on to rehabilitate the image of Robert Moses and three separate museums mounted exhibits asking visitors to rethink Moses (and thus also their view of mega-projects) do you think Robert Caro was approached to to revise his Pulitzer Prize-wining Moses biography, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York”? No, those looking to burnish Mose’s image went elsewhere. Caro wrote his warts and all portrait of Robert Moses as he thought was honest in the first instance. He was certainly not about to realign it to some new PR campaign.
Ms. Purnick, alas, is no Robert Caro.