Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Labor Pains and the NYC Press-With a Special Look at the Paper of Record

It is really getting quite upsetting to see the relative paucity of campaign journalism in this city. Our specific beef is with the relative absence of any hard-hitting looks at the shortcomings of Mayor Mike. This is especially important in the context of the mayor's huge spending spree. Without much in the way of journalistic critique all we are left with is the Bloomberg echo chamber.

With the air waves saturated in an all Bloomberg all the time fashion it is incumbent on the city's political journalists to look at the last four years with a critical eye. Unfortunately, we don't see much of this happening. Some of the worst aspects of this political blindness can be seen in the NY Post's blow-up of Freddy Ferrer's putative sell-out to 1199 in exchange for the union's endorsement.

As Jarrett Murphy's piece in the current Village Voice highlights, the Bloomberg team has a whole series of union deals that would be seen as suspect if subjected to the same standards of scrutiny that the Ferrer campaign is forced to endure. On top of this we have the endorsement by the Bodega Association in exchange for receiving additional security cameras and the unexamined impact of the mayor's charitable largesse on the support that he is getting from some members of the Black clergy.

This lack of a critical approach to the Bloomberg administration is not a recent phenomenon. It has, in fact, been characteristic of some of the NY Times coverage from the inception of the mayor's term (With the righteous exception of the work of Charles Bagli, especially his expose of Deputy Dan and his work on the West Side Stadium).

If we examine the Times' coverage we can see a sanguinity about the mayor that goes back to even the dark days of Bloombrg's 24% approval ratings. Just take a look at some of the stories on the mayor done by Jennifer Steinhauer. The paper's former City Hall reporter actually wrote that the mayor was greatly loved by small business at a time when the Bloombergers were raising taxes and fines to record levels.

Just a couple of days ago the Times did, by our count, its ninth story on Democrats who will vote for Bloomberg. We are still waiting for the paper's first prominently displayed piece on Bloomberg's complete evisceration of the city's campaign finance laws. Can you imagine what the paper would do to a national Republican on this issue? The reality is that the Times is a conservative force in NYC, especially when you understand how an entrenched wealthy liberal cultural elite simultaneously shares and wields power in New York.

In the city, this power is primarily wielded by between cultural elites and real estate developers – C Wright Mills would have a field day with all this but in his absence we have only to turn to the late Jack Newfield and the, thankfully, not late Wayne Barrett for a clear picture of NY's power elites in operation (The Times' support of the Supreme Court’s eminent domain decision opens a window to the elite mindset).

As we have mentioned elsewhere, it is an urban renewal impulse melded with a belief in the benevolent role of government. Embedded within this Weltanschauung is a hostility to entrepreneurism as well as to populism in any of its possible manifestations. In this world view the Planner and his faithful bureaucrat are seen as urban heroes, closely followed by wealthy philanthropists whose beneficence offers hope to the downtrodden. Mike Bloomberg is the quintessential leader to those who see the world in this way.

As a result, what we have in this election cycle is the interesting confluence of coverage from putatively disparate newspaper outlets. The Posts' demonization of Freddy is met not only by the Times' demeaning of the challenger's qualifications and chances of electoral success but by that paper's candy-coating of the mayor's record (Closely followed by the Daily News' series of glossy reviews of Bloomberg's first four years). We should, however, exempt the NY Sun from this charge since the more conservative Sun has offered up a wide range of Bloomberg critiques, many of which, like those of Alicia Colon, come from the Right.

What's incredible here, in the face of all this media shirking and record mayoral spending, is that the mayor has only 52%-53% percent in the latest two polls. It speaks to the lurking possibility that Mike Bloomberg is only one snafu away from imploding. If that happens it will, no doubt, come as quite a shock to some of our journalistic guardians.