Wednesday, August 15, 2012

With Discordant Synchronicity The “Barclays” Center Will Open At LIBOR Scandal’s Peak: What The New York Times Is And Isn’t Covering

Good news reporting needs to be integrative. You make reported news events more meaningful to your readership when you acknowledge the broader context in which those events are taking place and how they likely relate to your readership community. Compartmentalization of the news may sidestep cognitive dissonance but it is nonetheless a disservice to anyone wanting to make sense of the world.

I am thinking about this because I am thinking about how the New York Times is reporting the LIBOR interest rate-rigging scandal in connection with which the name “Barclays” has become a new shorthand synonym for how low the ethical standards of Wall Street can sink. How will the Times relate that reporting to what is relevant to residents of its home town, New York City?

A Times Search Centering on "Barclays" vs. One Centering on "Barclays Center"

If you do a search of the New York Times site for the word “Barclays” everything that comes up first is relevant to the scandal notoriously besmirching the bank’s name; see below.

Conversely, with the Barclays LIBOR scandal so prominently in news in recent weeks, if you do a 30 day search of the Times site for the term “Barclays Center,” the new Forest City Ratner/Mikhail Prokhorov-owned basketball arena scheduled to open soon, and therefore destined to open contemporaneously with criminal indictments of Barclays traders, you get a list of hype and hoopla articles about the center that make no mention of the darkening cloud of the Barclays scandal; see below.


At "Public Information Session" No Sign of Really Big Barclays Sign To Come

(Above, NY Post/Dana Sauchell photo from New York Post story about the affixing of the Barclays sign to the side of the arena on August 7, 2012.)

This omission of reference to the icky oddness of brandishing the “Barclays” name is going on even as new plans were unveiled to plaster an additional Barclays logo in super giant lettering on the top of the arena. When you look down from a helicopter at Brooklyn, the borough will be prominently branded with the scandal-associated name! (FYI: In the fall of 2009 when the arena design was released to the public and a public information session was held- the closest approximation to to a public comment hearing that took place- the renderings and models shown to the public were all presented WITHOUT this “Barclays” top-side emblazoning. Its possibility was discreetly kept under wraps.*)
(* I’ll have to go back and find the question about signage I am sure I asked at that September session. My recollection with the aid of some notes is that I asked specifically about the possibility of very large signage, possibly illuminated, possibly animated and that Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said that it was not part of the “current concept” for the arena design and assured everyone that anything done would be “within ESDC design guidelines.” To get a truly forthcoming answer about what was planned I should probably have crafted my question more carefully.)
(Above, rendering and model of the arena released when the public was being informed about its design. Below, renderings released long afterwards and a photo of Barclays logo lettering as, just a week ago, it it is begun to be painted on the roof.)

Fourth of July Celebration of the Name's Interdependence

The Times hasn’t failed entirely to notice the awkwardness associated with the fact that the new heavily promoted arena is prominently parading the scandal-associated name. On July 3rd and 4th (are these heavy Times readership days?) the Times ran two articles in quick succession each observing the awkwardness. The first was a business “Deal Book” article, the second was by its sports business reporter Richard Sandomir. Each referred to how naming sports stadia and arenas to promote corporate brands can run afoul of the haunt of a running “curse” or history of “ill-fated choices.” There is a long list of such stadia and sports venue names that have been embarrassingly affixed at almost exactly the wrong time: like Enron Stadium (for the Houston Astros), Adelphia Stadium (for the Titans in Nashville), Citi Field Stadium (for the NY Mets), the almost Allianze Stadium (for the NJ Jets and Giants- the problem was German concentration camp associations), Trans World Airlines Dome (for the St. Louis Rams), the almost CMGI stadium (for the New England Patriots), PSINet Stadium (for the Baltimore Ravens) and the first of the two articles also mentions the sponsorship deals of Conseco, and, American Airlines. (See: Investment Banking/| Legal/regulatory July 3, 2012, What’s in a Stadium Name? Often Trouble for a Company, by William Alden and Sports Business:arena Names Can Spell Embarrassment, by Richard Sandomir, July 4, 2012).

In an accentuation of the awkwardness, the William Alden Times Deal Book article astutely observes that in 2007 (when the Barclays scandal activities were cooking but not unveiled) the Times had quoted Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as saying “People will be talking about the Barclays Center all the time, all year, for decades to come.”

The question for me is, having for the record reported about the extreme awkwardness in these two Fourth of July week stories, should the Times now be setting the elephant-in-the-room observation aside, maintaining radio silence on subject, as if it was never mentioned at all?

Calling For a Collocation, a Shorthand Set of Acknowledging Words

I vote for adoption of shorthand reference for all articles about the Ratner/Prokhorov “Barclays” Center going forward, the sort of collocation or pseudo-title formulation the press frequently uses as a reminder to quickly orient the reader to key, presumably understood, facts. Remember when Robert Vesco was never simply “Robert Vesco” but always “fugitive financier Robert Vesco”? Similarly, you always read about “convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh,” “disgraced reporter Judith Miller,” or reputed New York Gambino family associate Guido Penosi.”

Rather than zeroing out future Times references to the Barclays name problem going forward (which seems to be the way things may be shaping up) I suggest adoption of a phrase that can be included in every Times article mentioning the Center like the “awkwardly-named,” “problematically-named,” or “embarrassingly-named Barclays Center.”

William Safire, the Times former language columnist, weighed in about whether journalistic pseudo-titles conform properly to appropriate Times style but he concluded that while in most cases simple descriptions work (like “an architect” after a name) this can be “a bit silly” when what is being referred to is well known:
‘Frank Gehry, an architect’ would make us seem clueless. In those cases, we often use the description before the name, with ‘the’ — ‘the architect Frank Gehry.*’
(* As in “architect Frank Gehry was jettisoned from design duties for the Atlantic Yards project by developer Forest City Ratner which has decided to save money switching to cheap modular construction instead”?)

Scandal a Free-Ranging Free-For-All, Involves Local New York Governments Subsidizing Promotion of "Barclays" Center

On the business story writing side of the equation, which the Times perhaps considers more serious, the Times is, indeed, covering the LIBOR rate manipulation scandal. It isn’t writing Barclays Bank out of the story as the lead player and central focus of attention in the rate-manipulation fraud. The most recent of the Times stories repetitively returns to references to “Barclays” to anchor the key points being made. It uses the bank's name a total of fifteen times counting the one time the bank’s name appears in one of the article’s picture captions. (See: August 5, 2012, As Libor Fault-Finding Grows, It Is Now Every Bank for Itself, by Azam Ahmed and Ben Protess.)

Notwithstanding, the Times hasn’t been covering another important part of the local story about which Noticing New York has been reporting even though it should be of special interest to New York City residents: The fact that various branches of New York state and local government may be suing Barclays Bank over its rate manipulation. This is especially interesting and relevant to the stories about the awkward naming of the arena given that there is a chance that all four local government entities providing very substantial subsidized financing to the “Barclays” Center and the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly (at a huge net loss to the public) may be among the vast number of potential plaintiffs suing Barclays over the rate manipulation.

The Times has reported nothing about any of New York’s local governments possibly suing Barclays, but the list includes New York City itself, the MTA, the New York City Housing Development Corporation, the New York City and New York State Comptrollers, their respective pension funds and the New York State Attorney General.

Here are two recent Noticing New York articles on this subject, including links back to earlier Noticing New York Articles (going back to mid-July): Saturday, July 28, 2012, More On Why Sued-For LIBOR Losses May Be Substantial And More On Figuring Why Mayor Bloomberg Is Minimizing The Public's Loss and Thursday, July 26, 2012, “Barclays” Center Opening Pending; Fellow Government Officials Don’t Back Bloomberg Re Minimizing NY Lawsuits Against Barclays Bank.

Per its headline, the most recent Times article gives a good picture of how the LIBOR scandal is shaping up on Wall Street as a sort of every bank for itself kind of affair. Blame-spreading finger pointing is going on that is quite abnormal for Wall Street. Normally the industry works to put up a common front when dealing with regulators and investigating prosecutors. One lawyer involved in the case is quoted as saying “There is no information-sharing among banks unlike the past 15 years of federal investigations.”

The article gives some sense of the scope of the frenetic free-for-all that is shaping up. Here is another article from Bloomberg News from just a few days before that also conveys the disparate and diverging interests of the banks but also makes clear how this also means that everybody in the financial world can be expected to sue everybody else: Fidelity Joins BlackRock in Weighing Libor Action Against Banks, by Christopher Condon and Alexis Leondis - Jul 26, 2012.) (Previously, NNY noted that Bloomberg News wrote about this as a “feeding frenzy of sharks” with “everyone’s preparing for war” in the litigation area.)

The Bloomberg News article notes that Baltimore is among those suing in a case that “stems from its purchase of interest-rate swaps” to protect the city from interest rate changes after it sold variable-rate bonds and quotes Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as saying, “I am going to fight for this city and do what I can to protect the city taxpayers who ultimately suffered financial damage as result of Libor manipulation.” Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s statement is the kind of statement we should be expecting from leaders in local New York government but it is not the kind of statement we have heard from Mayor Bloomberg who is downplaying the fact that he admits the city may similarly be suing Barclays.

Another article appearing in the Times in recent days doesn’t actually mention the Barclays name (referring only to “banks”) but it ought to be considered as clearly having importance with respect to the ongoing Barclays scandals: Corporate Fraud Cases Often Spare Individuals, by Michael S. Schmidt and Edward Wyatt, August 7, 2012.

Corporate Fines Paid, Corporations and Top Executives Move On, Escaping Criminal Prosecutions, To Promotionally Buff Their Image, Quite Affordably

It makes the point that the infrequency with which criminal charges are brought against corporate executives encourages executives to pursue illegal activities that defraud government:
Pharmaceutical companies, military contractors, banks and other corporations are on track to pay as much as $8 billion this year to resolve charges of defrauding the government, analysts say — a record sum and more than twice the amount assessed last year by the Justice Department.

* *

But while the collections are a boon to the government and taxpayers, they are resurrecting questions about the relative lack of charges against executives at the companies that are getting the stiffest penalties.
In writing about the ignominy of Bob Diamond’s abrupt departure as the chief executive of Barclays Bank, I provided some calculations that made pretty clear that after Barclays payment of fines both Barclays and Mr. Diamond would still have tons of netted cash left over to pay the relatively small sums that may then be required (illegal and disreputable conduct notwithstanding) to refurbish their names and reputations as the Barclays name gets promoted on the arena and New York City subway stations and Mr. Diamond’s name shines out on a building next to Colby College’s admissions center. (See, Tuesday, July 24, 2012, No Sparkle In Barclays’ Bob Diamond: Societal Mores Unmoored, What And Who We Honor Today- That Which We Used To Shun.) People should keep in mind that the fine that was paid by Barclays was paid partly to preclude criminal prosecution of the corporation. Criminal prosecution of lower level brokers is, however, predicted.

In that same article about Mr. Diamond I picked up on an applicable quote from law professor Frank Pasquale (appearing in a July 19, 2012 Boston Review essay):
Many naming-rights deals are not merely advertising. Rather, they are transparent efforts by dubious enterprises to buy goodwill by permanently associating themselves with famous landmarks.
(See: Names, Trains, and Corporate Deals: Why Public Transit Shouldn’t Sell Naming Rights. See also Atlantic Yards Report’s review of that article: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, Naming-rights deals, suggests law professor, are "transparent efforts by dubious enterprises to buy goodwill by permanently associating themselves with famous landmarks".)

The Enron Stadium Time Line: Lessons To Be Learned

Who is to say how embarrassingly the naming of the Barclays Center will be in the end? Up to this point, perhaps the most embarrassingly named stadium of all time was Houston’s Enron Stadium.

The time line on the naming of the Enron stadium runs thus.

The Enron Corporation began to engage in fraudulent accounting manipulations in the mid 1990s.

In March of 2000 the opening of the Enron Field was getting good pre-publicity from the New York Times sports page that sounds roughly like some of the publicity the Barclays Center is getting from that page currently:
What used to be an abandoned railroad yard and station and a downtown eyesore is now Enron Field, an impressive addition to the downtown skyline -- from the deep center-field fence 436 feet away to the modest distance of 326 feet down the right-field line to the tempting 315-foot clearance down the left-field line, the shortest in the major leagues.
Enron Field opened in April of 2000.

In January 2001 Enron was involved in secretly manufacturing the California power crisis. 2001 was also the year that Enron collapsed.

By January 2002 the world knew Enron was being criminally investigated.

As of February 27, 2002 agreements were negotiated in connection with Enron’s bankruptcy filing to eliminate the Enron name from the stadium whereupon the name became Astros Field instead.

Notwithstanding the rosy glow aspect of the Times sports page reporting about the stadium in 2000, by January 2002 the Times was on the spot with a “backdrop” article summarizing everything that went wrong with the company, the regulators and the supportive politicians and power players involved in the scandal like both president Bushes. It begins by describing the scene the day the stadium opened, making clear how it epitomized what was seriously out of whack:
On the day that Enron Field made its debut in April 2000, its ''Diamond Club'' was a portrait in power.

In the state-of-the-art baseball stadium's most exclusive section, behind home plate, there were the George Bushes -- a former president and a president to be -- along with the younger Mr. Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, and his successor as governor, Rick Perry. Nearby was Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose husband, Ray, is a lawyer with Enron's chief law firm, Vinson & Elkins. And then came the executives of Houston's biggest companies, who had vied to become the younger Bush's most prominent fund-raisers, just as they had jockeyed to buy the prized luxury seats.

And at the center of it all, down on the pitcher's mound, was Kenneth L. Lay, the man responsible for building Enron into an American powerhouse, throwing out the first ball.

If the cozy intertwining of business and politics at Enron Field is not unique to Houston or to Texas, it is pronounced here, and it was starkly visible that day. Now, in the company's spectacular collapse, the relationships are starkly visible once more, as Congress and the Justice Department ask whether that closeness, a part of the city's heritage, was at least partly to blame.

''It's a classic example of the circle of influence and inside connections that this entire case typifies,'' said Scott Harshbarger, president of Common Cause. ''And it's not only about these guys. It's what has been happening in Washington for so long now.''
(See: Enron's Collapse: Backdrop; In Houston, the Lines Dividing Politics, Business and Society Are Especially Blurry, This article was reported and written by Don Van Natta Jr., John Schwartz and Jim Yardley, January 20, 2002.)

If the Times were willing to look hard enough it could be reporting about how the opening of the Barclays Center, without coincidence, similarly represents and symbolizes the same sort tangle of politics, powers and interrelated crony capitalism connections that communicates how things are very wrong. Will it?

Times on the Issue of Corporate Branding of Public Assets, Generally

The Times has written about the issue of government selling out the right to corporately brand public assets. The most recent article appeared in June: Your Ad Here, on a Fire Truck? Broke Cities Sell Naming Rights, by Michael Cooper, June 24, 2012. I wrote about it here: Friday, June 29, 2012, Government Gets Branded. I hope my article added significantly to the depth of the discussion. The June Times article was mainly a catalog of examples of what is happening around the country and skirted any real discussion of the policy issues behind what was reported.

In contrast a Times article from July 2004 about an interest on the part of the MTA and Bloomberg to sell to corporations the right to name city subways systems and parks included the following observations. They sound much like some of my Noticing New York coverage:
Another challenge for governmental institutions seeking sponsorship deals is public acceptance. In Boston, Ralph Nader and an organization he helped found to fight the spread of advertising in America, Commercial Alert, lobbied vigorously against the plan to add corporate sponsors to the names of subway stations.

''This is part of the decline of American values,'' said Gary Ruskin, the group's executive director. ''We used to name things after people who were heroes, people we were proud of. Now we name things after the corporation with the deepest pockets.''

''How low will New York sink?'' he said.

Although renaming a subway station or bridge or tunnel may seem harmless, there are subtle but important effects, said Siva Vaidhyanathan, an assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University, who has written about the cultural impact of trademarks.

''The moment you slap any sort of private trademark on a public institution, you're reducing the sense of public investment,'' he said. ''I feel less invested in the quality of Verizon Grand Central Station or Eddie Bauer Central Park.''

(See: Now a Message From a Sponsor Of the Subway? By Michael Luo, July 27, 2004.)

Bloomberg And The MTA Once Said That Selling Corporate Naming Rights Was About Raising Money, . . . BUT. . .

Responding to the lead of Bloomberg and MTA spokesmen, this 2004 article analyzed the pro-side of the argument for selling corporation naming rights for city subway stations as being of financial benefit for the public, not to benefit corporations. It was to bring in money for the transit system and city. In the end, that turned out not to be the case because when in June of 2009 the MTA sold the right to name two of the systems biggest subway stations “Barclays” the MTA did so for a pittance, essentially taking nothing back for the public at all, only $200,000 per year for 20 years, far below what ought to have been paid or what those rights were worth. It would seem that if the MTA had been thinking about selling these naming rights since at least the summer of 2004, five full years, they should have been able to structure a more competent deal to benefit the public had they wanted to.

Public Disfavor For Naming Rights Sales (Scandal-Associated or Not)

The public isn’t enamored of these naming rights deals and laws have been sought to end them. When the Citibank’s name wound up going up on the new heavily-publicly subsidized Mets Citi Field stadium at the same time that Citibank was being publicly bailed out by the federal government with TARP funds Ohio Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich and Republican Texas Representative Ted Poe sought federal changes to require Citigroup to cancel the naming arrangements and recoup the money. (See: Should We Call it Bailout Stadium? February 10, 2009 by Tom Gallagher and Citi Field or Bailout Ballpark? Two Congressmen are urging Treasury to force Citigroup to pull out of its $400 million naming rights deal for the Mets' new stadium. Here's why that's a bad idea., by Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large, January 30, 2009)

In a sense, we may now have come almost full circle because one of the charges being investigated in the LIBOR rate manipulation scandal is whether, given the interest rate manipulations, the banks taking TARP loans failed to pay the federal government everything that should have been owed on those loans.

The public doesn’t necessarily need a scandal, TARP-flavored or otherwise, to think that selling corporate naming rights to public assets is a bad idea. In the Fall of 2004 San Francisco voters passed a referendum by a 55%-45% margin prohibiting sale of corporate naming rights for Candlestick Park, the home to the San Francisco ‘49ers. Candlestick Park had originally been named in a public naming contest: It doesn’t have cooperate associations.

Here from a news release reporting on the referendum:
Huge majorities of Americans want government to restrict the creep of advertising into nearly every part of our lives and culture. According to a Yankelovich Partners poll in April, 60% of Americans have amuch more negative opinion of marketing and advertising now than a few years ago, 61% of Americans feel the amount of marketing and advertising is out of control, 65% feel constantly bombarded with too much advertising and marketing, and 65% think there should be more limits and regulations on marketing and advertising.
(See:For Immediate Release: November 4th, 2004, San Francisco Approves Referendum Against Sale of Naming Rights for Candlestick Park.)

That rejection of the sale of naming rights is without a scandal as a reason the public might not want to be bombarded by the Barclays Bank name. What about with a scandal of the magnitude that continues to brew?

(Below, pictorial evidence of community resistance to the naming of its subways stations "Barclays": T Shirts available for purchase that protest the name change and some guerrilla political street art commenting on what associations the promoted "Barclays" name should evoke. Other of the modified subway signs said "Barclays always has the best fixed rates" and Barclays was totally cool with apartheid in South Africa.")

I hope future New York Times sports articles start referring regularly to the Ratner/Prokhorov arena as the “problematically-named Barclays Center” or something else of informative ilk. The last article written about the discordance of the curtain going up on the “Barclays” promotion at just this time was written by Richard Sandomir. He hasn’t written any articles about the “Barclays” Center since so it remains to be seen whether his next article will hearken back to his last in this key respect. Mr. Sandomir has written stories about naming rights before (and been taken to task about the need for careful accuracy and balance by Norman Order of Atlantic Yards Report: Wednesday, January 06, 2010, When it comes to details of the Barclays naming-rights deal, the Times plays "he said, she said," leaving Ratner with the last word.)

Will The Times Cover How The Barclays LIBOR Scandal Interrelates To The News of What's Going On Locally, Including The Local Atlantic Yards Scandals? We'll See. . .

I’ve written before that it is my opinion that the Times cannot adequately cover national stories if it compartmentalizes away the obvious links involving what needs to be reported about Atlantic Yards. I have also written about how the Times seems disinclined to write unfavorable stories about Atlantic Yards and the mega-monopoly development real estate developer, Forest City Ratner, the same developer who at a critical time as the Atlantic Yards story was unfolding entered into a business relationship with the Times to build the Times new headquarters.

We’ll see what happens but I think that the Times, in writing about the Barclays LIBOR scandal should also keep writing about the Barclays naming rights scandals and should also get around to writing about the fact that the very same government entities that plowed far too much subsidy into the “Barclays” Center and Atlantic Yards also, ironically, have cause whereby they may be suing that same Barclays Bank at the very same time that publicly paid for arena promoting that bank opens.

1 comment:

steven kidman said...

Barclays Center design was awesome. Totally different, The seating plan is very different easy to come or exit from the Center. But why at parking place, no Truck Parking space.