The decision of the Bloomberg campaign to duck next week's mayoral debate at the Apollo Theater in Harlem was expected. It is part of the age-old incumbent's strategy of avoiding unscripted events where a gaffe could prove costly. In Bloomberg's case, the merits of his ducking are even more compelling, given Mike's relative paucity of policy expertise and his minimal talent at public speaking.
What is a little surprising, however, was the media response on Saturday to the shuck and duck strategy. In fact only the Post, of all papers, gave the story both a prominent placing as well as a decent headline. What was missing of course was the colorful tabloid ridicule that accompanied the Freddy snafu over his educational resume. In that case, the Democrat received a frontpage dunce cap. Wouldn't a frontpage picture of the mayor in a chicken costume been apropos?
The Times' coverage was especially disappointing. The paper's story headlined the agreement between the two candidates for two late debates (as the campaign rushes towards its apparently inevitable conclusion). The egregiousness of the story, its minimization through hiding in plain sight, must be viewed in the context of the entire issue of campaign finance reform.
As we have railed about before, if you are going to make this a signature issue than it is incumbent that a degree of consistency is maintained. The mayor's spending has been consistently underplayed by the Times and the paper's failure to mention it while wailing about the possibility of a conservative SC may knock down McCain-Feingold is not up to any decent journalistic standards.
Which brings us to the debate issue. One of the key reasons that the mayor can refuse to debate is that he has been able to suck the oxygen out of campaign discussion by spending millions of his own dollars. Aiding and abetting this onslaught is a relatively uncritical media, one that has failed time and time again to hold the mayor up to any in-depth scrutiny.
With all this in mind Mike's shucking and ducking deserves to be thoroughly lambasted. One thing the city could really use is a contentious election debate on key issues like education, economic development, tax and regulatory policy, solid waste and public safety; a debate that at least forces the mayor to try to articulate some vision of what the next four years will be like in a second Bloomberg administration. When is the media going to get fed up with the mayor's orgy of advertising misinformation?
The Sunday Times followed up on this story and got it right, headlining the piece with Freddy's charge that the mayor was ducking the debate. Let's hope that the tabs follow up on this story as the "debate" nears and that the Times comes through with the appropriate editorial scolding of the mayor's gold-plated pusillanimity.
The Daily News flunks the equal time for ridicule standard today when it leads the debate story with a "Bloomberg Strikes Back" motif. Really? The Sun's take is much better here with the paper ridiculing the mayor for using Mark Green as the gold standard on debates. Newsday also steps up by focusing on the outrage over the mayor's shucking and ducking.
All of the media should be juxtaposing the debate issue to the mayor's record profligacy on the campaign trail. In fact, if the papers wanted to really do their job they would use this issue to point out that it is the sitting mayor, and not his Democratic challenger, who is the supreme flip-flopper. After all it was Bloomberg who said that he wanted four debates in 2001, and it was the same Bloomberg who all but assured us that he wouldn't spend at the same levels to get re-elected.
Once this was pointed out, it might also be useful to mention that it was good old Mike who criticized the aforementioned Green as a congenital tax and spender only to quickly morph into a mayor who is pretty much indistinguishable from the former Nader's Raider on this issue. This is the very same Bloomberg who, after raising taxes to record levels, immediately broke his promise on public funding of sports stadiums.
The larger and more important point here is that the mayor, unconstrained by the need to face the voters again, is liable to do a number of things that will upset New Yorkers, including the raising of taxes once again as well as the closing of additional fire houses.