Monday, December 8, 2014

With Big Bucks Out To Hijack Truth and Broadcasting Integrity- The Daily Show and Bill Moyers Set Models for WNYC Radio

October 29, 2014, Jon Stewart takes on the Koch's when they advertise on his show.
This October when the Koch Brothers ponied up $$$$ to muscle in on the Daily Show (broadcast on a commercial network- Comedy Central) to gain influence through paid-for advertising spots, Jon Stewart pushed back scathingly with a brilliant “adjusted” version of the Koch's own commercial, torpedoing the Koch ad by sinking it in proper context, i.e. the pertinent facts of what the Koch’s are actually up to.  (See: Democalypse 2014 - South by South Mess: Ad of Brothers, October 29, 2014.)


A Model for Public Broadcasters, Maybe WNYC Public Radio?

That raises the question of what happens when similarly objectionable sponsors hope their money plus messages will hijack the public’s reliance on the integrity that people expect from public broadcasting, integrity we expect partly because so many of us ante up our own contributions so that such broadcasting will be paid for largely by our own listener dollars.. . .   The fracking industry has been paying public radio to run its pro-fracking “think about it”campaign. David H. Koch, a heavy funder of climate science denial, sponsors, with mysterious intention ,“Nova,” a premier PBS science program. And David Koch has been put on public broadcasting boards!  Where is Stewart’s spirited, contextual, integrity-regaining push-back against such sponsorships on these non-commercial public networks?

Similarly, what does public radio station WNYC do when $$$$$ is flashed by an objectionable and powerful entity intent on selling fictions about itself?  Do they perhaps put that entity’s Chief Operating Officer on its policy-setting board and send out a press release that spiffs up that CEO’s reputation, if that, in fact, is the very least they do?  (Would that be a poor attempt to follow in the steps of the Daily Show to evoke laughter?). . .

. . .  At least $$$$$$ is the presumed reason that people believe that MaryAnne Gillmartin, the CEO of our local real-estate-subsidy-pursuer Forest City Ratner, was recently appointed as a WNYC trustee, because people can see no other explicable reason for her appointment other than $$$$$ and see lots a reasons why she should definitely not have been appointed to such a position.   See: Sunday, November 16, 2014, Is Forest City Ratner, As Victor, Writing Our History?- WNYC's Press Release on Appointing Forest City Ratner's MaryAnne Gilmartin to Its Board of Trustees and  Tuesday, November 18, 2014, Was Forest City's Gilmartin appointed to WNYC board because of "passion for public radio" or fundraising help?

The Message to Send Back

How does one push back effectively?

For the Daily Show the vehicle was humorous satire, but the “adjusted” Koch brothers commercial the Daily Show crew created provides a model for what to do when someone comes knocking at your door seeking to buy what will be perceived as true.  Such a response doesn’t necessarily have to be couched in satire. . . . And the essence of the Daily Show’s tactical response applies quite well to the ways that Forest City Ratner can be outed when it lies about itself.

The `adjusted’ Koch brothers commercial, with some helping emphasis from Stewart’s bantering introduction to it, let us know:
    •    Who the Kochs are really are behind this offered veil, a not so friendly giant that’s far too eagerly controlling far too many aspects of our environment.
    •    That their commercial is the facile purchase of a cheerily false veneer of happiness, a virtual “smile factory” to generate a “how bad could they be message.
    •    That, in a shadowy way, they deploy a spider web of dark money that buys our elections and politicians.
    •    That the ad is far more important for what it leaves out than for what it includes.
    •    The ad has a 180 degree from the truth message: We are making your (the listeners’) lives better, instead of, in actuality, destroying much of the essential environment and natural ecosystem around you.
    •    There is a scary ubiquity, omnipresence, inescapable dominance on the part of the sponsor, relegating or exiling the rest of us to potential non-entity status.
    •    That even our thoughts and basic understanding of the truth is at risk as these entities work to indoctrinate all, even our innocent children, to believe their manufactured falsehoods and seek to commandeer and rewrite our sources of knowledge.
    •    That, in their view, everything, every aspect of us, is up for their monetizing grabs.
    •    That they are unfair to the average worker they employ, offering low wage jobs.
    •    That they are: “The next generation of robber barons bending the democratic process to our will.”
(While the description above is generated from viewing the Daily Show segment about the Kochs, the hyperlinks are all set up to document the similarities to the Forest City Ratner organization.)

Another Choice Video, Another Model for WNYC

(Above: Democalypse 2014 - South by South Mess: Ad of Brothers, October 29, 2014, click through to Daily Show for best viewing).

If you haven't already watched this four-minute Daily Show segment I highly recommend that you do and I don't think that my analytic summary above will subtract from your chortles or appreciation of what an exquisitely structured piece it is.  . . .

I have another choice segment of exquisitely constructed video, 22 minutes, that I am going to urge you to watch that I will discuss here as a second model for where WNYC should want to head in dealing with Forest City Ratner and the New York City real estate industry in general.  This one is from another broadcaster, Bill Moyers.  I specifically cited it as such an example in an email I sent to WNYC president Laura Walker in follow-up to talking with her after the last WNYC trustees meeting.

(Above: Full Show: The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy, November 28, 2014- transcript available at this link- click through to Moyers & Company for optimal viewing.)
First let me set the scene a bit.

WNYC Community Advisory Board Meetings
November 18, 2014 WNYC Community Advisory Board meeting.  Attendance of New Tech City's  Manoush Zomorodi (facing, far right) was featured.
Some of us who considered absurdity together with danger to be inherent in Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment to WNYC’s policy-setting board went to the last two WNYC Community Advisory Board meetings (October 20, 2014 and November 18, 2014) to comment and object.  By the second of these two meetings the advisory board was beginning to weigh and think about our objections.  Unfortunately, the advisory board is no more than advisory; it doesn’t run things and can only relay to the board of trustees that does run things the feedback gotten from the public.  Unfortunately, the Community Advisory Board’s reports to the WNYC trustees board are only annual.   The next report including these objections won't go to the trustees until October of 2015!
At the October 20, 2014 Community Advisory Board meeting there was a presentation about sister station WQXR's aspirations/ambitions
December 3, 2014 WNYC Trustees Meeting
December 3, 2014 WNYC Trustees Meeting
No matter, some of us then went to the December 3, 2014 WNYC trustees meeting, the first trustees meeting held since Ms. Gilmartin was placed on the board. Ms. Gilmartin sat in a seeming position of honor right next to Laura R. Walker, board member, President & CEO of WNYC who conducted most of the meeting.  Ms. Gilmartin sat somewhat sullenly without speaking, probably aware that objections had been raised about her appointment.  When I spoke with President Walker afterwards she said that, because seating at the meeting was not assigned, nothing should be inferred from who was sitting where, but she refused to say who sat next to whom first respecting Ms. Gilmartin and herself.
Second and third from left, Walker and Gilmartin seated next to each other
While the WNYC board apparently hadn’t heard from the Community Advisory Board, a number of the members, Ms. Walker included, were expecting us and knew why we were there.  Even so, apparently not all the members were similarly aware and the Noticing New York’s article about Ms. Walker’s appointment had not been distributed to all the trustees.

An opportunity for public comment was not part of the meeting, but Ms. Walker noted that the public could approach and speak with the trustees who lingered after the meeting's executive session (during which the public had to exit the room).  Returning afterwards is when I spoke with Ms. Walker and an assisting staff member.

I was told that Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment had been in the works for more than a year.  Although I pressed for an answer, Ms. Walker would not say whether anyone had raised the obvious likely objections to Ms. Gilmartin’s appointment other than to let me understand that there had been discussions about Ms. Gilmartin's qualifications.  I asked, and Ms. Walker said that she had known Ms. Gilmartin for a number of years.

At the meeting, and outside of it afterwards, there was discussion about a gala (including what to wear) and, outside the board meeting room, there was also some discussion about how there was a lot of money in the borough of Queens, as in Flushing, that was not and ought to be represented on the NYC board.  As we were there to say that representation of actual people and listeners ought to be represented in the composition of WNYC’s board, not Forest City Ratner’s money, I was sensitive to the phraseology that there was “money” in New York City that needed to be represented on the board.

This dispersal of board members after the meeting was rapid.  I did not get to have much in the way of conversation with very many, but one of the board members who said he was aware of the controversy about the Gilmartin appointment said that he did not have any problem with it because he thought that Ms. Gilmartin and her interests should be represented on the board as part of representing the interests of “all New Yorkers.”

My Noticing New York point of view is that WNYC and public broadcasting is intended to be an alternative to the relentless expression of commercial speech and is not supposed to be setting up a he-said/she-said balance on its board between all of the city’s commercial interests and those of the public.  There is also concern that with any such `balance' it will shift inexorably in the direction of the commercial interests represented.

Kurt Andersen Interview of  Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl

Left Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.  Right Studio 360's Kurt Andersen
As if to emphasize the intersection of NYC's coverage of news and culture in New York with governance and politics, a centerpiece of the publicly held  portion of the trustees meeting was a half hour interview of NYC Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl.  He was interviewed by Kurt Andersen, known for his "Studio 360" program broadcast in prime slots in the station's line up.  Andersen quipped that without the editing and typical winnowing of a typical "Studio 360" interview (talking for an hour but getting the best ten minutes) he and Mr. Finkelpearl were not going to sound nearly as good as what usually goes out on the air.  It was, indeed, odd to hear Mr. Andersen's familiar voice associated with a face I might not have guessed went with it.  Present in the room with him, he didn't sound quite so perky.  If you'd like to listen to Mr. Andersen, "Studio 360" did an absolutely brilliant, recently rebroadcast, 2013 hour about the Disney Company parks that included discussion of urban planning issues, but not in ways that would relate those issues obviously to NYC.
Agenda for Trustees meeting
Commissioner Finkelpearl, a pleasant, erudite fellow may be familiar to our readers as he has gone to bat several times to speak on behalf of "Spaceworks."  Noticing New York views the Spaceworks very differently since the private Spaceworks firm, formed at the end of the Bloomberg administration (and not covered by WNYC yet) albeit "nonprofit," seems to have a decided real estate bent and has declared as one of its primary missions the acquisition and shrinkage of New York City Library space as "underutilized."

The Finkelpearl/Andersen interview discussing how culture and economics interrelate generally got around to discussing real estate, specifically Hudson Yards, which, as it is a thematic sister to Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards, should have been reason for Ms. Gilmartin's ears to perk up.  Conversely, might Mr. Finkelpearl's perception of Ms. Gilmartin have gotten an adjustment from sitting across from her that morning?  Hudson Yards is fewer acres and in many ways not as bad as Atlantic Yards, but similar vintage, both being mega, single developer projects sired under Bloomberg.

The discussion of Hudson Yards came up in the context of the millions of dollars the city is spending in terms of "partnerships" with cultural institutions and how culture, in the likely form of a governmentally assisted institution ($75 million), could be integral to moving the huge, single-developer Hudson Yards project along.

Back to David Koch

Concluding the Finkelpearl session, trustees were able to put their own questions to the Commissioner and the first as about whether Mayor de Blasio cares sufficiently about the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Mr. Finkelpearl said this was not true, recounting that the department was actively involved with the Met and that he police commissioner had gotten involved with the issue of food cart vendors outside of the Met.  The issue has been exacerbated by the opening of the new (publicly protested) David H. Koch plaza outside the Met and is one that David Koch, living nearby, is speculated to be one he takes a personal interest in. Koch thought the old fountains outside the Met were "crummy" and  says of the replacement scheme "I suggested the whole project," reportedly getting into the "micro-details" of it.  We heard Mr. Finkelpearl explain that the Met gets $24 million a year from Cultural Affairs plus often getting "large capital investments."  City schools get $22 million yearly from the department.

Mention here of David Koch provides an opportune segue to discuss the Bill Moyers segment I recommend and the email I sent about it to Ms. Walker.

The Koch brothers represent the essential epitome of the fossil fuel industry and its outsized power.  In my email communication to Laura Walker about omissions that weaken WNYC’s coverage I cited, by example (you see how I detailed this in the actual email I sent below), the new episode of Moyers & Company that addressed itself to the outsized power of the real estate industry in New York City.  One point made during the Moyers show was the equivalency of the real estate industry  vis-à-vis New York City to the overbearing influence of the oil and fossil fuel industry nationally.

Putting Ms. Walker on the Spot
Compensation information for WNYC president Laura Walker from station's 2012 990 IRS filing
You may perhaps observe that my questions in my email below put Ms. Walker very firmly on the spot.  Before feeling too sorry for her consider that she is paid big bucks for these decisions and presumably to take the heat for it.  WNYC’s most recent IRS 990 forms on file with the Guidestar service (signed 05/14/2014) show that Ms. Walker’s reportable compensation for 2012 was $559,838 in addition to which she received from WNYC that year another $98,178 in the category of deferred compensation and non taxable benefits, for a total compensation package back in 2012 of $658,016 for her estimated 35.5 hours of work per week.  (Her salary, $486,688 in June 2007, was last noticed by Gawker in 2009, so it’s been going up a bit.)

In point of reference, talk show host mainstays Leonard Lopate and Brian Lehrer were paid for that reported year, $236,211 and $287,084, respectively (plus, respectively, $25,219 and $31,900 in the category of deferred compensation and non-taxable benefits).

My Followup Email to Ms. Walker
From Noticing New York's December 24, 2013 coverage (like Moyers) of the plutocratic towers casting shadows on Central Park- Slide promoting Skyscraper Museum Show-"View of Central Park from One57"
Here is my email to Ms. Walker:
Dear Ms. Walker,

When we talked after the WNYC board meeting yesterday you said that if there were ways I thought that WNYC could be doing a better job covering and addressing issues that I believe need to be addressed in this city I should let you know and that you would relay my thoughts to the WNYC editorial board assuring me that, notwithstanding the recent appointment of Forest City Ratner CEO MaryAnne Gilmartin as a trustee to WNYC's policy-setting board, that the listeners of WNYC will get the coverage of important issues that is deserved.

In that regard, I call to your attention a new episode of Moyers & Company: The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy, Aired: 11/28/2014.

Although Moyers & Company is an independently produced nationally syndicated program that deals with issues of national importance I think you will observe that the entirety of this particular 22-minute program focuses on a series of connected concerns that are all local New York City issues, the kind that it would be the natural province of WNYC, our city public radio station, to cover.

This Moyers & Company episode, in a connecting-the-dots fashion showing the interrelationships, zeros in and seamlessly addressees all of the following issues:
    •    Increasing wealth inequality in NYC with the ascension of a privileged elite buying power to create an increasingly unlevel playing field that's being taken advantage of to create more power and wealth inequality.  (i.e. the  "dark shadow of plutocracy")
    •    The invasion of a significant public commons with its sacrifice to privileged private interests.  In this case that public commons is specifically, but also somewhat symbolically, the example of Central Park.  It is important to remember that WNYC similarly represents a significant public commons.
    •    Reminders of how our collectively shared commons represent the experience of democracy and its effective functioning.
    •    An elucidating equation of the power of the real estate industry in NYC with the all too influential national oil industry centered in Texas.
    •    How this disequilibrium translates into bad urban design and degraded living conditions for the average New Yorker with developer greed driving that detriment.
    •    An analysis of how the "Swiss bank account money" fueling these subtractions from the public good (per New York Magazine's "Stash Pad" cover story) likely doesn't pull its weight in contributing to the local economy, notwithstanding former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's defense of the super-rich and his political urging that the NYC economy be channeled in this direction.
    •    That, because of political machinations and dodgy deals in Albany linked to questionable campaign contributions, democracy and the public interest is being sold out in these regards, which means that these wealthy luxury apartment owners who very frequently don't pay local income taxes also very dramatically escape a proper shouldering of their fair share of real estate taxes.
    •    How the Moreland Commission, set up to investigate abuse and corruption in Albany politics, was focusing on these exact city real estate industry issues when it was dismantled by Governor Andrew Cuomo as it got too close to his own conduct in regard to these particulars.
    •    How the imbalances in the way we are managing our public resources is resulting in a less diverse, increasingly exclusive city with the needs of significant sectors of the population being insufficiently or completely unsupported.
    •    Some thought about what makes for effective public protest and countering political actions in the face of these things.
I doubt that you would disagree that all of these concerns plus the way that they are interconnected are of vital interest to New York City's populace and WNYC's listeners.  I therefore invite you to submit this Moyers episode to your editorial board and ask them when WNYC has covered these issues and their interrelation with similar comprehension and vigor.  I also ask you and the editorial board to identify when WNYC has subjected the Forest City Ratner organization and its activities that very much affect the city to the same kind of careful scrutiny.

I recognize that pieces of much of the above have been covered in fits and starts from time to time by various WNYC programs.

Brian Lehrer, for example, has (almost unavoidably) independently covered such topics as "stash pads" and the luxury towers casting shadows into Central Park, and has also had some excellent discussion about Governor Andrew Cuomo's dissolution of the Moreland Commission. Still, given that WNYC intends to be a station that prides itself on long-format, in-depth and analytical, in-context reporting, where is the kind of in depth reporting from WNYC that, like the Moyers story, pulls these things together, interrelating them for the kind of comprehensive overview that begs to be made?

I've covered much of what the Moyers episode addresses in Noticing New York, routinely making most of the same connections, and I do so because it has been my priority to deal with what I believe is most critically in need of being addressed in terms of New York City development, governance and politics.  That NNY coverage has been possible despite the fact that financially Noticing New York is essentially a shoestring, zero-budget operation.  So it doesn't take money.

Yesterday I repeated to you the suggestion made by one of the public attendees at the last WNYC Community Advisory Board meeting, that if comes to a question money (one of the CAB members suggested money was at the root of certain practices in question) that WNYC should simply consider "doing less with greater integrity."
A side note before concluding:  I realize that in holding out to you the Moyers work as an example, I may be undermining arguments I have recently been making because: 1.) It involves commendable actions recently taken by the Municipal Art Society although I have criticized MAS to the extent to which they, with board changes of their own, have abdicated- or reversed- much of the core mission MAS once pursued, and 2.) the broadcast came to New Yorkers via WNET Public television which I have criticized for not covering the the real estate industry issues that beset the city.  Quite true, but: A.) MAS could hardly ignore the magnitude of the issue (even if it is interesting that after the 1980s TimeWarner building construction battle precursing this more recent tower shadows issue was not completely won, MAS appointed that questionable building's architect as its board chair), and B.) As a nationally syndicated program the Moyers show bypassed the local editorial board, and was not a product of it.
I am thankful for WNYC's coverage of such local development issues and associated politics whenever it is clearly good, which it can be, but I am taking you up on your offer to communicate what needs and ought to be better, gaps that need to be filled.   Please let me know and direct my attention accordingly, if I have overlooked WNYC coverage that would match up to the story that Moyers & Company just produced.  Likewise, do let me know if you think that there has been rigorous coverage of Forest City Ratner that is comparable.  If that's not the case, I'd be delighted to hear that you are communicating to the WNYC editorial board that there are standards toward which they yet need to strive with the expectation of beneficial results to follow.

Thank you for your attention.
Above and below from the Moyers report

 "Masculine" vs. "Feminine" News, What's Most Important To Cover

Years ago, I heard on public radio (I was traveling and I am not sure it was WNYC and cannot retrieve more facts) a fascinating speech by a prominent national female news anchor of the time.  I am guessing that the speaker might have been Diane Sawyer and that this was in the 1990s.  She spoke about what is perceived as  “male” or “masculine” news, which was considered “hard” news and more important than what was considered “female” or “feminine” news.  Political news was generally viewed as falling into the “masculine” news category that also frequently preoccupied itself with headlines about crises that might be covered with relatively short spans of attention from the media.  Conversely, “female” or “soft” news, often dismissively viewed, tended to focus on the very intricate texture and meaning of our daily lives, often in ways that might help foreshadow or help us comprehend and prevent crises.

I remember coming away from hearing the speech with a very deep respect for the importance of this deeper, more contextual, background kind of news often viewed as “feminine” and inferior.

Fluffy News to Put You to Sleep?

That being said, I am beginning to wonder whether there has been a programming shift at WNYC to the less substantial, less meaningful, the kind of stuff that life-style commercial networks already cover with more than sufficient adequacy.  I asked Ms. Walker what she thought the purpose was of including Ms. Gilmartin in a July 15, 2014 Brian Lehrer segment about how to get a better nights sleep.  At the time that of that broadcast Ms. Walker and her board were obviously, based on what she said, considering honoring Ms. Gilmartin with an appointment to the WNYC board.  Ms. Walker did not really have an adequate answer, except to say that Ms. Gilmartin was just there as another female executive although I pointed out that her appearance in that segment alongside Arianna Huffington, head of the Huffington Post and AOL was obviously burnishing for Gilmartin’s reputation.

Background IS Indeed Important News

I actually view politics as being deeply imbued in the fabric, texture and background of our lives, what might be considered the feminine, often dismissed side of the news cycle.  Ergo, Ms. Gilmartin’s appearance in the context of that segment has political meaning.  Similarly, the background urban environment in which we live and the meaning it gives our lives is important, part of what we pay attention to and the decisions we must make when we govern ourselves.  For instance: Aren’t landmarks an important part of the way we feel and emotionally connect to the city in which we live?  It appeared the real estate industry had inveigled the de Blasio administration to do a massive, wholesale “de-calendering” of all of the landmarks now before the city Landmarks Commission to preserve, a total of about 100, jettisoning years of work by preservationists. . . New York Times architectural critic Michael Kimmelman posted to Facebook that it was “a sop to the real estate industry and the opposite of transparent, especially without a public hearing.”  

Indeed, done en masse under the vague “housekeeping” rubric, attested to an intention to hide exactly who was intended to be benefitted by whatever the juiciest handouts were in the group, but it was a safe bet that there were at least several really juicy ones, one of them perhaps the intention to build yet one more in the parade of supper tall towers south of the park at the site of the 57th and 5th Avenue’s Bergdorf Goodman!

. . . The Brian Lehrer show didn’t get around to covering the potential disaster but, thankfully, the plan was set aside after massive opposition anyway.  The Leonard Lopate show got around to it after the fact, almost too late.

Moyers Watching Stewart
Moyers commenting favorably on Stewart's treatment of his Koch sponsors
Will Jon Stewart’s bite the hand that sponsors you by assembling appropriate truth-telling adjustments catch on with public media?  Stewart’s push-back apparently did catch the eye of one public broadcasting veteran, none other than Bill Moyers himself.  Days after the Daily Show segment aired, the website put up a post with a link back to the Daily Show observing how Stewart had meted out his  honest helping of justice for the Kochs’ “series of treacly, feel-good commercials touting all the wonderful things the company does to make our lives better.”
The Goldman Sachs commercial that pops up links to more video promotion for Goldman, including its involvement with huge real estate projects in New York City.
There’s work for Moyers to do in this regard because the efforts of $$$$$ to encroach are everywhere. . .  It’s ironic, but when I clicked to watch “The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy” what I got first before it started to play was a “treacly, feel-good commercial” for Goldman Sachs and company “touting all the wonderful things the company does to make our lives better.”   As written about previously here in Noticing New York, Goldman, including a subsidy-abusive real estate manipulation to build its own NYC office tower, was squarely targeted by Moyers in at least one previous Moyers broadcast.

Does this go in the “you just can’t win” category?  I’d like to think that Moyers has dished out far better than he has been subjected to, that his integrity is as mightily intact as it appears to be, and that at this point he is miles ahead of those who spend to piggy-back on his message, hoping to neuter the truth he offers. . .  That he, like Jon Stewart, may still be thought of as setting a good example for WNYC.
PS:  Something for Noticing New York to do next?:  Look more carefully at the composition of the rest of the WNYC board to consider whether we can expect there to be adequate checks and balances to the kind of influences that come with appointments like Ms. Gilmartin's.

1 comment:

Norman Oder said...

Greg Carey of Goldman Sachs worked on the Yankee Stadium and Atlantic Yards deals: