Sunday, August 21, 2011

Heritage of "Journalistic Enterprise and Courage" Duly Noted: The Modern Day New York Times Meets and Likes Its Boss Tweeds

(Above, an 1872 Harper’s Weekly drawing by Thomas Nast of Tammany Hall Boss Tweed and Horace Greeley influential publisher of the New York Tribune, modified somewhat with the modern faces of Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and real estate partner and developer Bruce Ratner.)

Fishing for compliments tends to arose suspicion. Skipping the fishing and simply handing compliments out to oneself is more hazardous and inevitably rightly invites scrutiny as to whether the individual or company bestowing laurels upon itself is actually living up to the standard for awarding the accolades they want to bask in.

A few days ago the New York Times complimented itself on its editorial page for the paper’s historic “journalistic enterprise and courage” in covering and eventually bringing to an end the corruption of Tammany Boss William M. Tweed. (Editorial: The Man Who Helped Stop Boss Tweed, August 17, 2011.)

The Times editorial page noted that Boss Tweed:
the apotheosis of big-city corruption — appeared to be unstoppable.


By one estimate, he and his Tammany Hall cronies purloined at least $1 billion and perhaps as much as $4 billion in today’s dollars, much of it from the public purse.
But the Times points out that Tweed “was convicted of theft and sent to the Ludlow Street jail” two years after the Times published a scoop making public the details of “ledger items that showed, penny for penny, how Boss Tweed planned to pocket public money intended for the furnishing of a new courthouse.”

The Times concludes in good parable style by teasing out the following moral:
Today’s media landscape is obviously very different. But some things are unchanged. Scoops are still exciting; even more rewarding is helping to ensure civic honesty.
One might infer from all of this that the Time is promoting itself as still interested in scoops and the rewards of ensuring “civic honesty.”

Only one problem: Yes, no doubts some things are “obviously very different”(while human nature being what it is “some things are unchanged”) but the closest analogue to the Tweed Court House scandal of the 1870s in present day New York City is clearly the Atlantic Yards scandal, and when it comes to Atlantic Yards the Times is interested in neither scoops nor the rewards of ensuring “civic honesty.”

In fact, it is far worse. The Times editorial about its exemplary handling of the Tweed scandal makes the point that “Tweed forces” tried to buy off the paper, offering “$5 million — equivalent to $100 million today” to “George Jones, this newspaper’s founding publisher” to back off and refrain from publishing its scoop. In 1871 the Times didn’t accept the offer, but in this century the Times was offered an integrity-compromising deal it did accept: The Times got to benefit financially from the questionable use of eminent domain (many would shout "abuse") and from partnering with Forest City Ratner, the developer of Atlantic Yards, when the Times built its new headquarters building. Since that time the Times has not been critical of, or informative about, the abuse of eminent domain or about Forest City Ratner misconduct. They have also not been informative or critical about the bad urban planning that the Forest City Ratner Atlantic Yards mega-project and the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" basketball arena represent.

Far from it: Instead, the Times has essentially promoted and been a cheerleader for Ratner projects. For more on the role the Time has played in contributing to the civic dishonesty and mismanagement of the city in this respect see: Sunday, June 26, 2011, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle.

(Above "Who Stole the People's Money?" - Do Tell, N.Y. Times)

Things have changed a bit. Perhaps in Boss Tweed’s time the secret ledgers were more explicitly direct in accounting for how a development project could be intentionally inflated and overblown to drain the public till. Nowadays it's all done with complex and intentionally obscure (R-TIFC-PILOT- backed) bond deals and pounds of paper for meaningless, commitment-less Environmental Impact Evaluations and "blight studies" prettied-up by schemers intent on concealing the thefts they are up to. But the bottom line is the same: To the substantial detriment of the public, billions of dollars of unearned public money is being handed out to a builder just because he is politically connected.

Things have changed a little, but only a little. What has probably changed the most is only which side the Times is on.

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